The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that President Obama’s landmark healthcare bill, including the controversial “individual mandate,” is constitutional by a 5-4 majority.
“The Court holds that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause, but that doesn’t matter [because] there are five votes for the mandate to be constitutional under the taxing power,” SCOTUS Blog reports. “The bottom line: the entire ACA [Affordable Care Act] is upheld, with the exception that the federal government’s power to terminate states’ Medicaid funds is narrowly read.”
The court’s decision comes as a major defeat to those who have fought against the healthcare overhaul since before President Obama signed it into law in 2010. U.S. citizens are still legally required to purchase insurance via the federal government and the bill’s expansion of Medicaid, although now limited, still stands. This means roughly 30 million uninsured low-income Americans are still eligible for coverage through the bill’s expansion of the state-run entitlement program.
However, if it’s any consolation, the court also ruled that the Commerce Clause does not give the government the authority to compel Americans to purchase a product. So at least there’s there’s that, right?
“I am disappointed with today’s Supreme Court decision because the Court has cleared the way for what looks like a very broad use of the tax power. But we can still be very thankful that the court has defended the contours of the Commerce Clause,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel, Judicial Crisis Network.
Chief Justice Roberts was joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor in upholding the mandate.
“Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments,” Roberts wrote in his opinion (page six).
“Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices [emphasis added],” he added.
Needless to say, Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion has shocked many people.
“Wow. So Kennedy voted with conservatives, Roberts with liberals. Umpire, indeed,” the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein tweeted.
In his dissent, Justice Kennedy said “In our view, the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety.”
After hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the bill in March, the Supreme Court Justices focused on these four points:
- Whether the “individual” mandate is constitutional
- Whether SCOTUS has the authority to rule on a tax law even though it hasn’t come into effect
- If the individual mandate is overturned, will it be cut from the rest of the law as a separate entity or will other provisions fall with it?
- Whether the law’s Medicaid expansion is constitutional
Of the four points discussed, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that, as a tax, the individual mandate is constitutional. Under the Commerce Clause, it doesn’t work, but as a tax, it’s legitimate.
It doesn’t seem that way now.
Chief Justice Roberts, whose vote saved “Obamacare,” announced the court’s decision at 10:07 EST.