Obama Health-Care Law: Supreme Court Upholds It in Entirety

Article excerpt

A 5-to-4 Supreme Court majority - including Chief Justice John Roberts - determined that the Obama health-care law was authorized under Congress's power to raise and collect taxes.

The US Supreme Court upheld President Obama's health-care reform law in its entirety on Thursday, ruling that Congress did not exceed its authority in passing key parts of the massive 2010 statute.

In a 5-to-4 vote, the justices defied expectations that they were poised to strike down at least a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Instead, the court - led by Chief Justice John Roberts - determined that the law was authorized under Congress's power to raise and collect taxes.

In an unusual twist, five justices - including Chief Justice Roberts - determined that it was not within Congress's power to enact the so-called individual mandate that requires every American to purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.

But four justices joined Roberts in concluding that Congress was within its power to enact a tax as an encouragement for individuals to purchase the government-mandated level of health insurance.

"The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause," Roberts wrote. "That clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it."

He added: "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. Such legislation is within Congress's power to tax."

Roberts was joined in that portion of the decision by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

In their dissent, four justices criticized Roberts for rewriting the health-care law to conform with the chief justice's tax approach.

"The holding that the individual mandate is a tax raises a difficult constitutional question ... that the court resolves with inadequate deliberation," wrote the justices, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. …