Nobody knows what the Supreme Court will say about the Affordable Care Act, or exactly what a decision striking down part of the law would mean for the health care system. But one thing is clear already: Just by getting this case to the high court, which resumes hearings on Tuesday, the far right wing has already won something.
As recently as three years ago, the idea of an individual mandate (the requirement that most people get insurance or pay a penalty) was largely uncontroversial, not only within the Democratic Party but within the Republican Party as well. As late as the spring of 2009, prominent Republican lawmakers like Charles Grassley, ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, publicly embraced the idea of the mandate as part of health care reform. If he or any other leaders of the GOP thought the mandate was an unholy violation of liberty, they kept it to themselves.
The mandate also has a lengthy, bipartisan resume: Among its original architects were researchers at the Heritage Foundation. Among its early supporters were the three top Republicans running for president: then-Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Romney, of course, enthusiastically promoted the mandate as a way of enforcing individual responsibility—because, as he liked to say, people who can pay for their health care share shouldn’t pass their bills onto others.
To be sure, not everybody within the Republican Party (or, for that matter, within the Democratic Party) liked the mandate. Libertarians, as far as I can tell, have always opposed it. They make a serious and intellectually honest case, which is part of their broader argument that the government should do far less than it does today. It's just not an argument most mainstream conservatives and Republicans endorsed—until the last few years.