Prior to the announcement of today's monumental health care decision, the betting was that the key vote would be Kennedy and that if Kennedy swung toward upholding the act, Roberts would join him. We now know that Roberts was the key vote, and we should have suspected it from the beginning.
Roberts more than any other member of the Court has a stake in how the Court is perceived. The media and historians focus on the legacy of the Roberts Court. If the Court had struck down the Affordable Health Care Act, there was a grave danger to the Court that it would be perceived as a partisan wing of the Republican Party. The decision would have been perceived as woven from the same cloth as Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. Instead, the Supreme Court will be perceived in this decision as having acted as a court of law rather than as a naked political power organ.
Of course, law is a subcategory of politics. But it is a subcategory bound by certain authorities, customs, habits, and traditions. Policy plays a role, but partisan politics is out of bounds. Roberts understood that. It is a courageous decision on his part. He will be hated by conservatives for what he has done. And he will never be loved by liberals, nor should he be. But I respect the fact that he ruled today in a way that will promote respect for the Court as an institution.