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The court ruled that because Congress can ban child pornography, the “necessary and proper” clause allows it to keep child pornographers off the streets longer by committing some of them beyond when they would otherwise be released.

While Justices Alito and Kennedy offered narrower rationales than the other justices for their decision, Chief Justice Roberts didn’t - and could have been sending a signal, Mr. Millhiser said.

“If Roberts is going to take the opinion he did in Comstock, it is not possible for him to strike down the Affordable Care Act unless he wants to engage in pure hackery,” Mr. Millhiser said. “The law was so much further on the margins of congressional power than the Affordable Care Act.”