The only thing sure about decisions out of the Supreme Court of the United States is that you can never be sure about them, Wasn't the swing vote on the court supposed to be that of Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy? Instead, it's Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote yesterday's majority opinion upholding Obamacare, casting the fifth vote in the 5-to-4 decision.
What's going on here? Haven't these justices read the script? Don't they know the rules? Don't they know they're supposed to follow the customary fault line between the court's conservatives and liberals? Don't they read the papers, or at least the distinguished pundits, professors and long-time court-watchers who've time and again explained how this 5-to-4 play works? Instead, both Brother Kennedy and the chief justice were offsides.
This wasn't supposed to happen, and some of us just love it when it does. Not only because it leaves the "experts" as embarrassed as they often are by what can happen in real life, but because there is no warrant for a court's impartiality like its unpredictability. The law is funny that way, and justice can be, too.
All the tea leaves haven't been read yet in the wake of this long and complicated decision about an even longer and hopelessly complicated law. Many decisions and complications doubtless lay ahead as the law begins to creak into motion -- like some Rube Goldberg contraption that will take years to produce a clear result if it ever does.
For the moment, let us hold on to a few things the court's decision does seem to make clear:
--Not just the legal but the moral authority of the Supreme Court, so long and arduously established over the course of American history, remains strong, even unquestioned. That is no small thing in a country that prizes the rule of law. And should.
--Americans are about to witness another vast expansion not just in medical costs but the size of its government bureaucracy -- federal, state and maybe on any and all levels with a connection to health care. Even a vague connection.
--Medicaid is about to come down with a massive case of elephantiasis, complete with accompanying cost. As for Medicare, it's about to be further endangered. The future of both those programs will bear watching. And guarding.