I don't think anyone saw that coming.
(I’d like to preface this post by stating the obvious: I am not a constitutional scholar - legal matters and Supreme Court jurisprudence are far beyond my purview. That said, I do try to keep abreast of the major decisions that this court rules on, and realize the full and far-reaching consequence of their power.)
A national nail biter - for weeks the country has been poised for yet another disappointment. Nothing has suggested that we should've expected anything else but more conservative manipulation, misuse of power, and the inevitable continued shredding of democracy, judiciary neutrality, and constitutional sobriety. While conservative blowhards ceaselessly and loudly caterwaul the dangers of liberal activist judges, reasonable people can’t help but notice that the incessant 5/4 conservative majority of this current Supreme Court have ensured that corporations are people, that it remains perfectly acceptable for campaign finance to be unlimited and clandestine, and that election results don’t really matter. So when Justice John Roberts, George Dubbya’s own cherry-picked ultra-conservative chief justice, sided with the liberal leaning four on the Affordable Care Act, it was a welcomed and exceptional shocker.
Months ago, there was no suggestion that anything in the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. Unpopular, yes, but questions of constitutionality weren’t even on the radar. The individual mandate is what’s gotten everyone’s knickers in a bunch, but that was put in as an alternative to the single payer option in order to appease Republican opposition. It was, after all, modeled after Romneycare in Massachusetts. (If we were living in a sane political climate, the Presidential hopeful might be proud to take credit for the architecture of the individual mandate as his greatest achievement, but times being what they are, Mr. Romney feels the need to backpeddle in order to distance himself from it.) So to read that the four dissenting Justices voted to throw out the entire bill as unconstitutional simply smacks of political partisanship. Exactly the political gamboling that we’ve come to expect from this court, and exactly why the Supreme Court’s approval ratings are in the toilet.
Of course, changing the trajectory of how healthcare is conducted in this country may be President Obama’s crowning achievement, and for that fact alone, Roberts must surely have wanted to squash it. But as staunchly conservative as he is, and as much of an opponent to the President, he is also a constitutionalist with encyclopedic knowledge of Supreme Court precedence, and a deep love of the institution itself. Understanding that the court is more partisan and polarized now than ever before, and that this polarization and partisanship has undermined its public opinion and respect, my guess is that Roberts voted with judicial precedence, rather than with his political leanings (as the other conservatives clearly did and as he has in the past). In other words, he may have decided that attempting to restore the legitimacy of the court itself was more important to him than admitting that a bill resembling socialized healthcare, which is most certainly personally distasteful to him, is unconstitutional.
So yes, this has been a pleasant surprise, and has garnered new respect for Justice Roberts from progressives and others who may previously have seen him as just another conservative power player in the de-democratizing of America. But this decision doesn't erase all the damage that this court has recently wrought. We should all keep in mind that in the next term, among other things, these very same Justices who seem driven to make this country a theocratic corporatocracy, will be deciding the outcome of immigration statutes, same-sex marriage, and anti-abortion legislation. Most importantly, three Justices will most probably be replaced during the next Presidential term. Even if you've been disappointed with Obama's leadership; if you feel he hasn't been as quick to deliver the hope and change that was promised in the last election, keep in mind that the next President will be filling three of these Supreme Court seats.