The Supreme Court announced this morning that it has upheld the individual healthcare mandate, the trademark clause of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Five of the Court’s nine justices, including Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled the healthcare act constitutional. They cited the federal government’s taxation authority as reason to retain to act. The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress spent much of this year defending the act’s constitutionality under the Interstate Commerce Clause. Chief Justice Roberts and company disagreed with the left in this regard, but the heart of their decision largely comes as a surprise to the American public.
The full text of this morning’s ruling can be found here. Here is a clip of the majority’s remarks:
Although the breadth of Congress’s power to tax is greater than its power to regulate commerce, the taxing power does not give Congress the same degree of control over individual behavior. Once we recognize that Congress may regulate a particular decision under the Commerce Clause, the Federal Government can bring its full weight to bear. Congress may simply command individuals to do as it directs. An individual who disobeys may be subjected to criminal sanctions. Those sanctions can include not only fines and imprisonment, but all the attendant consequences of being branded a criminal: deprivation of otherwise protected civil rights, such as the right to bear arms or vote in elections; loss of employment opportunities; social stigma; and severe disabilities in other controversies, such as custody or immigration disputes.
President Obama will take to the podium in just a couple of hours to air his reaction to the ruling. In the meantime, here are responses from some others from the Washington media circuit.
Whether the long-term affects of this decision will benefit the Democrats or Republicans is still a mystery. But The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes that this will be a tale of two parties the whole way through:
This will be covered, in many quarters, as a political story. It means President Obama — and Solicitor General Don Verrilli — are popping the champagne. It means that Mitt Romney and the Republicans who were fighting the health-care law have suffered a setback. It will be covered in other quarters as a legal story: It is likely to be central to Roberts’ legacy, and perhaps even to how we understand the divisions in the Court going forward.
Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn weighed in on the decision:
Still, the rest of the ruling is a surprise victory for the Obama administration, which faced a tough grilling from the court — including from Roberts — during the oral arguments in March. It guarantees that most of the two-year-old law will stay in place, avoiding the massive disruption to the health care industry that would have resulted if the mandate had been struck down…
The court’s decision allows the law’s more popular provisions to survive, like guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions starting in 2014 — the same year the mandate is scheduled to take effect.
The administration took a gamble when it asked the court last fall to hear the case more quickly than necessary. That risk appears to have paid off, providing Obama with validation before the November election. But it will also fire up Republicans who plan to campaign on a pledge to repeal the law in Congress.
The Nation‘s David Cole also shared his thoughts:.
Two things are remarkable about this decision. Everybody thought that Kennedy would be the decisive vote. If he went with the conservatives, then it would be struck down. If he went with the moderates, it would be upheld. The shock is that Chief Justice Roberts was the one who broke with the conservatives. The other thing is that remarkable about the ruling is that the conservative Justices would have invalidated the entire law based on one provision, the individual mandate. It would have put us way back, well beyond square one.
You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a law that will expand healthcare insurance to millions of Americans who didn’t have it before. It’s not the best law, obviously. The question was, does congress have the power to deal with a large social issue and regulate the industry and make citizens buy into a system that will help everyone? Thanks to Roberts, they can do this. If the ACA doesn’t end up helping people, then there can now be better reform in the future. People who think that it would be good if it was struck down and would make us closer to single-payer, is just ridiculous.
We have yet to learn former President George W. Bush’s reaction to this morning’s ruling, but it was not likely one of satisfaction, particularly toward Chief Justice Roberts, the man he nominated to the Court in 2005. But The New York Times’ Peter Baker reminds readers that presidents have a long history of being disappointed by the decisions of their appointees:
Many occupants of the Oval Office have come to rue at least one of the decisions made by justices they appointed to the Supreme Court. Richard M. Nixon’s appointees forced him to hand over the Watergate tapes that pushed him from office. The elder President Bush appointed David H. Souter who became a mainstay of the court’s liberal wing. Bill Clinton’s appointees voted to let Paula Jones proceed with her sexual harassment lawsuit, leading to the deposition where he gave false testimony about Monica Lewinsky that got him impeached. Dwight D. Eisenhower was said to call his appointments of Earl Warren and William J. Brennan Jr. his two biggest mistakes.
Maybe the best reaction from a seemingly jilted president came from Theodore Roosevelt, who grew so angry at one decision by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., whom he had put on the bench, that he snapped, “I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that.
Baker’s fellow Times reporter, Michael Shear, writes that the ruling can also be good news for conservatives searching for ammunition:
But the ruling also has the potential to re-energize the Tea Party movement, which was largely born out of opposition to the health care law, and provide new political power to Mitt Romney’s pledge to repeal the law if he wins the White House in November.
Disappointment and anger among conservatives at the decision could also translate into a powerful electoral issue in Congressional races as well. Republicans eager to seize control of the Senate now have a renewed rallying cry in races across the country.