The Supreme Court on Thursday upheldPresident Obama’s health care overhaul law, saying its requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congress’s power to levy taxes. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members.
The decision was a victory for Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats, affirming the central legislative achievement of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”
At the same time, the court rejected the argument that the administration had pressed most vigorously in support of the law, that its individual mandate was justified by Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The vote was again 5 to 4, but in this instance Chief Justice Roberts and the court’s four more conservative members were in agreement.
The court also substantially limited the law’s expansion ofMedicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health care to poor and disabled people. Seven justices agreed that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by coercing states into participating in the expansion by threatening them with the loss of existing federal payments.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who had been thought to be the administration’s best hope to provide a fifth vote to uphold the law, joined three more conservative members in an unusual jointly written dissent that said the court should have struck down the entire law. The majority’s approach, he said from the bench, “amounts to a vast judicial overreaching.”
The court’s ruling was the most significant federalism decision since the New Deal and the most closely watched case since Bush v. Gore in 2000. It was a crucial milestone for the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, allowing almost all — and perhaps, in the end, all — of its far-reaching changes to roll forward.
Mr. Obama welcomed the court’s decision on the health care law, which has inspired fierce protests, legal challenges and vows of repeal since it was passed. “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law,” he said at the White House.
Republicans, though, used the occasion to attack it again.
“Obamacare was bad policy yesterday; it’s bad policy today,” Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said in remarks near the Capitol. “Obamacare was bad law yesterday; it’s bad law today.” He, like Congressional Republicans, renewed his pledge to undo the law.
The historic decision, coming after three days of lively oral arguments in March and in the midst of a presidential campaign, drew intense attention across the nation. Outside the court, more than 1,000 people gathered — packing the sidewalk, playing music, chanting slogans — and a loud cheer went up as word spread that the law had been largely upheld. Chants of “Yes we can!” rang out, but the ruling also provoked disappointment among Tea Partysupporters.
In Loudoun County, Va., Angela Laws, 58, the owner of a cleaning service, said she and her fiancé were relieved at the news. “We laughed, and we shouted with joy and hugged each other,” she said, explaining that she had been unable to get insurance because of her diabetes and back problems until a provision in the health care law went into effect.
After months of uncertainty about the law’s fate, the court’s ruling provides some clarity — and perhaps an alert — to states, insurers, employers and consumers about what they are required to do by 2014, when much of the law comes into force.
The Obama administration had argued that the mandate was necessary because it allowed other provisions of the law to function: those overhauling the way insurance is sold and those preventing sick people from being denied or charged extra for insurance. The mandate’s supporters had said it was necessary to ensure that not only sick people but also healthy individuals would sign up for coverage, keeping insurance premiums more affordable.
Conservatives took comfort from two parts of the decision: the new limits it placed on federal regulation of commerce and on the conditions the federal government may impose on money it gives the states. Read More