TheÂ Supreme CourtÂ on Thursday upheldÂ President Barack Obamaâ€™sÂ health care overhaulÂ law, saying its requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty was authorized by Congressâ€™s power to levy taxes.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the courtâ€™s four more liberal members, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, according to The New York Times.
The unpopular requirement that everyone buy health insurance or pay a penalty â€” compared by detractors to a rule that everyone purchase broccoli â€” was unconstitutional as a mandate, Roberts said, but valid as long as it was simply considered a tax.
“We do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies,” wrote Roberts, a conservative appointed to the court by PresidentGeorge W. Bushin 2005. “That judgment is entrusted to the nation’s elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.”
President Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger in the November 6 presidential election, immediately responded to the decision.
The president called the ruling “a victory for people all over this country,” reports The Huff Post.
“The highest court in the land has now spoken. We will continue to implement this law,” he said, speaking to cameras in the East Room of the White House, the same setting he used to announce the 2011 death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. “With today’s announcement it is time for us to move forward, to implement and when necessary improve on this law.”
“We will continue to implement this law and we’ll work together to improve on it.Â What we won’t do – what the country can’t afford to do – is re-fight the political battles of two years ago or go back to the way things were. With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward,” Obama added.
Mitt Romney, who pushed through a similar healthcare overhaul at the state level in 2006 as governor of Massachusetts but opposed Obama’s law, called on voters to help him defeat the president in order to repeal the law critics derisively call “Obamacare.”
“Our mission is clear. If we want to get rid of Obamacare, we are going to have to replace President Obama. My mission is to make sure we do exactly that,” Romney said, standing behind a lectern decorated with a sign that said, “Repeal and Replace Obamacare.”
Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined in a dissent. Roberts’ controlling opinion, Ginsburg’s concurrence, the four-justice dissent and Thomas’ own dissent add up to 187 pages.
Ginsburg, writing separately for the four liberals, said they would have upheld the mandate under the commerce clause too.
“As for the Medicaid expansion, that portion of the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution by threatening existing Medicaid funding,” Roberts wrote. “Congress has no authority to order the States to regulate according to its instructions.”
“Congress may offer the States grants and require the States to comply with accompanying conditions, but the States must have a genuine choice whether to accept the offer. The States are given no such choice in this case: They must either accept a basic change in the nature of Medicaid, or risk losing all Medicaid funding. The remedy for that constitutional violation is to preclude the Federal Government from imposing such a sanction,” Roberts wrote.
“Unlike the market for almost any other product or service, the market for medical care is one in which all individuals inevitably participate,” she wrote. “Virtually every person residing in the United States, sooner or later, will visit a doctor or other health care professional.”
The ruling is a huge win and a big relief for the Obama administration, which spent 18 months and heavy political capital pushing health care reform through Congress.
President Obama has had other achievements on the domestic and foreign policy fronts, but it’s fair to say that the passage of the Affordable Care Act was at the top of his list of accomplishments.
“It should be pretty clear that I didn’t do this because it’s good politics,” Obama said. “I did it because it’s good for the country.”