The real person of the year: John Roberts

Whatever his motives, ruling the way he did required Roberts to rewrite the law. In the text of the legislation, the penalty for not purchasing insurance was not described as a tax; it did not appear in the section of the law pertaining to taxes; and it wasn’t primarily intended to raise revenue, but to compel somebody to purchase a product. Nonetheless, Roberts decided it was operationally a tax on not buying insurance.

So, under the precedent of this ruling, the government in theory shouldn’t be able to mandate that individuals take certain actions, nor will lawmakers be able to force Americans into a stream of commerce. But in practice, they will be able to mandate whatever they want as long as they attach a nominal fee to the mandate and call it a tax.

Some legal conservatives have argued that Roberts’ ruling on the Commerce Clause was a significant long-term victory. And they say that his additional ruling that states could opt out of the law’s Medicaid expansion was a huge win for federalism.