Carving Out the Middle Ground

Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

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...

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