In Health Care Ruling, Roberts Steals a Move From John Marshall's Playbook

Published: Friday, June 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Our take: Daniel Epps finds a sticking and eerie similarity between the recent Affordable Care Act ruling and the legendary Marbury v. Madison case.

The Supreme Court, by a narrowly divided vote, upheld the individual mandate, a key component of President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Obama supporters are letting out a collective sigh of relief, as most observers expected the mandate -- and possibly the entire Act -- to fall after the oral argument. Conservatives are conversely upset that Chief Justice Roberts -- the deciding vote in the case -- snatched defeat for conservatives from the jaws of victory, given that there were four votes to strike down the Act in its entirety.

Although the decision is certainly a win for Obama and Democrats, it's by no means a clear-cut victory. And while the Chief Justice is taking a lot of heat from the right, the way he handled the case might actually turn out to be a brilliant strategic move -- one that could very well define his judicial career, and could actually be the optimal outcome for Republicans.

To explain -- and I promise this historical detour will be worth it -- we should note unexpected parallels to Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 case in which the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Marshall, established that it had the power of judicial review: i.e. to declare federal laws unconstitutional. The very simplified background is this: The petitioner, William Marbury, had been nominated as a justice of the peace by President John Adams at the very end of Adams's term, right before Thomas Jefferson took office. The Senate confirmed the nomination.

Read more about Chief Justice Roberts' ruling on The Atlantic.

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