The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major victory for President Obama June 28 after the justices ruled 5-4 to uphold a major provision of his landmark health care law.
The individual health insurance mandate—arguably the most contentious element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—was ruled constitutional because it falls under Congress’ ability to “lay and collect taxes,” the justices ruled.
According to the law, by 2014 all Americans will have to obtain insurance or pay a penalty as part of the tax filing process.
“In this case…it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax,” stated Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority. Liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Roberts in the “Aye” vote.
The dissenting justices, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, argued that the law could not be upheld as a tax because Congress “framed” it as a penalty and not a tax.
“In effect, they contend that even if the Constitution permits Congress to do exactly what we interpret this statute to do, the law must be struck down because Congress used the wrong labels,” Roberts wrote, opposing their stance.
That the individual mandate survived based on its interpretation as a tax is ironic since President Obama and his congressional allies were adamant about avoiding that label during the bill’s passage. Still, the president said he was happy about the decision—and not because this win may buoy his chances of reelection.
“I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost. That’s how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington. But that discussion completely misses the point,” Obama said in a statement delivered from the White House’s East Room. “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.”
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act said that while the Supreme Court may have ruled on the constitutionality of “Obamacare,” it did not rule on its soundness as public policy—a distinction that Roberts made clear in his opinion. And, those detractors say, they will not give up their efforts to overturn the measure.
“Obamacare was bad policy yesterday it’s bad policy today,” said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in a televised press conference. Reiterating his promise to repeal the law, he pledged, “What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States.”