A vast new taxing power

This is a minority view. By right-left acclaim, at least among elites, the Chief Justice has engineered a Marbury v. Madison-like verdict that camouflages new limits on federal power as a reprieve for President Obama’s entitlement legacy and in a stroke enhanced the Supreme Court’s reputation—and his own. This purported “long game” appeals to conservatives who can console themselves with a moral victory, while the liberals who like to assail the Chief Justice as a radical foe of democracy can continue their tantrum.

It’s an elegant theory whose only flaw is that it is repudiated by Chief Justice Roberts’s own language and logic. His gambit substitutes one unconstitutional expansion of government power for another and rearranges the constitutional architecture of the U.S. political system. …

The Chief Justice did not simply change a label—as if Congress said something was a penalty when it was really a tax. Rather, these categories are defined by their purposes and effects, by how they operate in practice. Taxes are “exactions” whose main goal is raising revenue, while penalties punish individuals for breaking the law. The boundaries can blur—legitimate taxes may also have strong punitive aims—but scarcely so in this case. ObamaCare’s mandate was designed to regulate individual conduct to help achieve universal coverage. If it succeeds perfectly, it should collect $0.