In another legal win for the Affordable Care Act, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The ruling is online here (pdf).

It is the first federal appellate bench to rule on the constitutionality of the reform law.

It’s worth appreciating the fact that the outcome today was by no means assured. The 6th Circuit is considered one of the nation’s more conservative appellate benches, and one of the judges who upheld the constitutionality of the ACA was Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a nominee of George W. Bush, and a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Indeed, Sutton, a Federalist Society veteran, has been described as “one of the nation’s leading advocates for conservative states-rights positions.”

Far-right activists hoped, and many assumed, Sutton would be a key ally in overturning the law. He was not. Indeed, he is the first federal judge to consider the legality of the ACA on the merits who “broke ranks” — that is, a conservative judge who sided with the Obama administration’s position.

From the ruling, of which Sutton was a part:

“By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons. First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance.”

The case was originally brought by a conservative legal outfit called the Thomas More Law Center, which insisted the public couldn’t be compelled to purchase insurance. The Justice Department responded, pointing not only to the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, but also to the “congressional power to tax and spend to provide for the general welfare.”

The lower court agreed with the Obama administration, and now an appeals court has done the same. It’s hard to see this as anything but a major victory for the law, the administration, and common sense.

Of course, because this is great news for Democrats, recent history suggests today’s ruling will be largely ignored.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.