The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the controversial health care law championed by President Barack Obama in a landmark decision that will impact the November election and the lives of every American.
In a 5-4 ruling, the high court decided the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance is valid as a tax, even though it is impermissible under the Constitution’s commerce clause.
“In this case, however, 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,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”
The importance of the decision cannot be overstated: It will have an immediate and long-term impact on all Americans, both in how they get medicine and health care, and also in vast, yet-unknown areas of “commerce.”
The most anticipated Supreme Court ruling in years allows the government to continue implementing the health care law, which doesn’t take full effect until 2014.
That means popular provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allow parents to keep their children on family policies to the age of 26 will continue.
The opinion was a victory for Obama but also will serve as a rallying issue for Republicans calling for repeal of the Affordable Care Act .
Roberts joined the high court’s liberal wing — Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — in upholding the law. Four conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — dissented.
The polarizing law, dubbed “Obamacare” by many, is the signature legislation of Obama’s time in office.
It helped spur the creation of the conservative tea party movement and will be a centerpiece of the presidential election campaign.
Roberts appeared to note the political divisions of the health care law, writing that “we do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies.”
“That judgment is entrusted to the nation’s elected leaders,” the opinion said. “We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.”
The narrow focus of the ruling on key issues such as the individual mandate — limiting it to taxing powers rather than general commerce — represented the court’s effort to limit the government’s authority.
“The framers created a federal government of limited powers and assigned to this court the duty of enforcing those limits,” Roberts wrote. “The court does so today.”
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