clock menu more-arrow no yes

The Obamacare decision was not a liberal ruling by John Roberts

Pool/Getty Images

There's a lot of talk on political Twitter about whether Chief Justice John Roberts is proving himself a closet liberal. But the Obamacare decision today is a very conservative decision, legally speaking.

On the Affordable Care Act, Roberts simply declined to reinterpret a sweeping piece of legislation from the bench. This is the kind of judicial restraint — if a decision this obvious even deserves the moniker "restraint" — that conservatives used to call for in judges.

Rewind the tape a couple of years, and conservatives were furious at judges who tried to "legislate from the bench." Condemning "judicial activism" was an applause line at Republican rallies. "I made a promise to the American people during the campaign that ... we would seek judges who would faithfully interpret the Constitution and not use the courts to invent laws or dictate social policy," George W. Bush said in 2008.

John Roberts was one of those judges. He got confirmed by a Republican Senate by saying, "It's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat." Today, he called a pitch that went way over the batter's head a ball. He was asked to reinvent a law and remake social policy, and he ... didn't.

It's true that political conservatives dislike Obamacare, and many of them wanted to see the law wounded by the Supreme Court. But the means by which they wanted to achieve that victory weren't conservative at all.

In the aggregate, there's a case to be made that the Roberts Court, in general, is coming to liberal decisions more often than was expected. See the New York Times for the full details. But in this case, even if liberals are happy with the Obamacare decision and conservatives are upset about it, deferring to Congress's clear intent is supposed to be the way conservative judges rule.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.