Just a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings in March on the constitutionality of several parts of the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — an overwhelming majority of the nation’s legal scholars predicted that the law would be upheld.

They saw little substantive difference between the health care legislation and other social programs that have been passed without constitutional challenge since the court interpreted the Constitution’s commerce clause as supporting New Deal legislation like Social Security and various economic and health and safety regulations.

Silly them: They were looking at the law and how easily it fit in with eight decades of legal precedent, and figured that members of the U.S. Supreme Court would do the same. Some even predicted a relatively lopsided 7-to-2 decision. Ordinary Americans, on the other hand, had little faith in the court’s willingness to follow the law. They told pollsters they believed that many of the justices would allow political ideology to determine their position.

The Supreme Court is at a crossroads. The next president will likely make two or even more nominations that could ensure for decades a conservative majority to take the country backward — or strengthen the court as it pursues the role assigned to it in the Constitution.