SCOTUS to POTUS: Individual Mandate Constitutional

The crowd gathered outside the Supreme Court to hear the decision. Photo by Katherine Ladner.

It’s official: The individual mandate has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

After a whirlwind of confusion, the individual mandate was upheld by a majority of Justices including John Roberts, who authored the opinion, along with Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotamayor.

The 5-4 decision is confusing. So here is the lowdown (and it’s accurate, promise):

The Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate that has been the centerpiece of controversy over this bill and requires all Americans to buy health insurance, is constitutional. The majority did not uphold the decision on the grounds of the Commerce Clause, which the state argued allowed them to exercise its power over interstate commerce to require people to buy health insurance, but instead that the penalty you must pay if you choose not to buy health insurance is a tax that Congress can impose using its constitutionally given power to tax.

They did, however, strike down the provision of the bill that would have allowed the Federal government to strip states who choose not to participate in the program of their Medicaid funding.

SCOTUSBlog, whose liveblog can be found here, quoted the majority’s explanation:

“Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”

Because the mandate was upheld, the Supreme Court had to rule on little else. This means that other provisions, including the widely popular provision that allows children to stay on their parents insurance up to the age of 26, are also constitutional.

The dissent, signed by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, says the entire law should have been struck down. They write:

“The Act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying nonconsenting states all Medicaid funding. These parts of the Act are central to its design and operation, and all the Act’s other provisions would not have been enacted without them. In our view it must follow that the entire statute is inoperative.”

What confusion was I referring to at the beginning, you ask?

Namely, CNN reported almost immediately that the individual mandate was ruled unconstitutional and called it a “huge blow to the Democrats” before they realized their unfortunate mistake that sent the Republican right into fits of excitement. CNN then corrected their mistake, calling it a “huge win for President Obama,” causing the celebration to shift to the left.

CNN’s confusion most likely came from the Chief Justice’s opinion, section 3A, which said, “The individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause.” Unfortunately, CNN jumped the gun and went to press without continuing to the portion where the Chief Justice elaborated that the law was being upheld as a constitutional tax.

The most interesting part of this decision is who was the swing vote. Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, has never been the conservative that Republicans hoped he would be. In this case, he became the swing vote – a title most would have given to Kennedy – and joined forces with the Court’s four most liberal justices.

As the New Yorker points out, this may change forever what the country defines as “the Roberts Court.”

While this decision is certainly a win for the Democrats, and especially President Obama, the close nature of the decision is hardly a resounding statement. Republicans will no doubt use this as fuel for defeating Obama in 2012, as evidenced by this tweet put out by the Republican National Committee only minutes after the decision was clarified:

From the Senate floor after the decision, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also called for Republicans to continue their attempt to repeal “this terrible law,” and the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, responded by saying he would enact legislation to repeal the law on “day one” of his presidency.

But what does this mean for future decisions for the court? According to SCOTUSblog:

“The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause should be understood as a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws. Using the tax code — especially in the current political environment — to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition.”

This isn’t over, people.

In other news, expect summaries from Editor Stephanie Wang, who was at the White House when the decision was called and from Katherine Ladner, an intern in Senator Dick Durbin’s Washington D.C. office.


According to Politico, the House will vote on a full repeal of the health care law during the week of July 9.

-Politically Inclined Staff

Posted by on June 28, 2012. Filed under Elections,Judicial,National Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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