John Marshall, the greatest of all Chief Justices, famously wrote that it is the job of the high court "to say what the law is." It is not, he implied, the province of the court to say whether a law is wise or sound or good for the people; it is simply to rule on whether or not it is constitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts was channeling his groundbreaking predecessor when he wrote his landmark opinion on the Affordable Care Act. (He actually cites Marshall by name twice.)
Roberts' decision is also a primer on the roles of the court and of government. He begins by reaffirming that the national government is one of "enumerated powers"--that is, the Constitution lists the powers of the federal government, and if one is not on the list, the government doesn't have it. Roberts found his way through the mammoth Affordable Care Act and decided that although the government does not have the power to make people buy health care, it does have the power to tax them for not doing so. It's a fine line and in many ways one he drew himself.
The court's decision is so important that we moved up our publishing schedule to create this special issue in order to get it to you as soon as possible. So we closed two issues this week. This one features a brilliant cover story by David Von Drehle on the ruling, four essays by former solicitors general from across the political spectrum, a commentary by Joe Klein on how Obama can now fix his own law and a graphic on how the Affordable Care Act affects you. Our goal is to make sense of a very complex decision that ultimately affects every American.
Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR