Commentary: Roberts Would 'Alter the Legal Firmament'

Since Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. cast the deciding vote to uphold most of the Affordable Care Act in June, pundits have typed thousands of words in efforts to analyze the surprising outcome. One of the latest analyses, a National Journal cover story, offers thousands more words that are best summed up in its pithy headline:

“Tipping the Scales: He doesn’t look the part of a revolutionary, and he may be anathema to conservatives at the moment, but Chief Justice John Roberts is on course to fundamentally alter the legal firmament.”

And he is not charting a course in the direction of the more liberal justices with whom he sided on the health care reform decision, James Oliphant writes. Rather, the author suggests, it would be in the direction of the conservative justices whom he joined in finding that the health care law did not withstand constitutional muster under the commerce clause, and potentially reaching “to attacks on all sorts of expressions of congressional power.”

“He’s a chief justice with a long view, who realizes that sometime three yards and a cloud of dust is better than a long bomb in moving the ball in a conservative direction,” Douglas Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center told National Journal. “Sometimes the smartest way of doing it is to back off a little bit.”

“In other words, John Roberts is not a fool,” Oliphant concludes. “Or a traitor. Or a liberal. He knows what he is doing—and he’s going to be doing it for a long, long time. Underestimate him at your peril.”

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