"If the majority [of the U.S. Supreme Court] agrees with [Judge Roger] Vinson, President Obama would find not only his health care bill undone, but also face the most significant scaling back of the government's power to use legislation to solve its problems in decades," Time's Michael Lindenberger warned in a February 2 post at the magazine's website.
To reach such a conclusion, however, Lindenberger must have misunderstood Vinson's ruling on Monday in State of Florida v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, which sought not to "turn back the clock" on commerce clause interpretation but merely prevent its overextension into an unprecedented and dangerous arena: forcing Americans to buy private health insurance under the flimsy illogic that such economic inactivity actually amounts to commercial activity.
"I am required to interpret this law as the Supreme Court presently defines it. Only the Supreme Court can redefine or expand it further," Vinson noted on page 43 of his 78 page opinion. The Reagan appointee noted that no less legislative authorities than the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office have found Congress requiring Americans to purchase private health insurance under penalty of law to be "novel" and "unprecedented"
"To now hold that Congres may regulate the so-called 'economic decision' to not purchase a product or service in anticipation of future consumption is a 'bridge too far.' It is without logical limitation and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent," Vinson argued.
So, it logically follows, for the Roberts Court to "agree with Vinson" would be to ratify his understanding of the Constitution and existing case law and to clarify that Congress punishing Americans for choosing NOT to engage in commerce is a "bridge too far" to be justified by grounding it in the Constitution's commerce clause.
While it's true that the conservative majority on the Roberts Court could avail itself the opportunity to revise or overturn commerce clause precendents that already vex conservatives, it need not do so in order to invalidate ObamaCare.
What's more, given Chief Justice Roberts' preference for finding consensus and the practical need of the conservative wing to win over swing voter Justice Kennedy, it's probably unlikely that the Court would go further than it absolutely needs to on the merits of the case in light of present case law.
Simply put, Lindenberger's complaint makes for a great liberal call to arms, but it's an overblown fear.
[See a related post I wrote earlier this week here]