Today, the Supreme Court upheld the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, known to many as “ObamaCare,” in what legal scholars have called the most anticipated decision since Bush v. Gore decided the Presidential election in 2000.
Significantly, the Court upheld the individual mandate, which requires individuals to purchase a health care insurance policy by 2014 or pay a financial penalty. In the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court ruled that imposing such penalties is a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power to tax.
Although the Court affirmed congressional taxing power, it limited Congress’ ability to regulate commerce under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. The only provision struck down by the majority required states to expand Medicaid coverage.
Many were surprised by the Court’s ruling, especially after swing-vote Justice Kennedy sharply questioned the law during oral arguments. Kennedy drafted the dissenting opinion stating that “we would find the Act invalid in its entirety.”
Nevertheless, in an unexpected turn of events, Roberts joined the Court’s liberal justices to create a 5-4 majority upholding the law. Roberts, a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush, also recently joined the liberal justices in a decision striking down a large portion of Arizona’s controversial immigration law based on the Federal Government’s power to regulate immigration.
Almost portending the ongoing legislative battles over health care, Roberts noted that “the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”
President Obama remarked that ”whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over the country.” Even so, politics is front and center as the health care debate continues. While the Supreme Court ruling is undoubtedly a major victory for President Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed that, if elected, he would repeal the Affordable Care Act. Moreover, Republican congressional leaders immediately released statements promising that the House of Representatives would once again vote to repeal the health care law as early as July 9, 2012.
Regardless of the outcome, it appears that health care will continue to dominate the conversation throughout the 2012 election season.
Alexis Young is an attorney in New York City.