The Supreme Court this morning announced that it has upheld Obamacare’s individual mandate, which – because it also let stand, with restrictions, the Medicaid expansion provision of the bill – means that basically the entire legislation is deemed constitutional.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the left wing of the Court in a 5-4 decision that validated the legislation. Roberts led the writing of the opinion.
It appears in focusing on Justice Anthony Kennedy, everyone had the wrong guy. Kennedy sided with the conservatives and said today that the entire law should be held unconstitutional.
Apparently, what has happened is that the Court decided that what is described in the legislation as a penalty – or a fee – is actually a tax, and Congress has an unchallenged power to tax. From the decision:
Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax.
The “tax” is assessed if individuals don’t purchase health insurance, which is the enforcement mechanism of the mandate.
The mandate was not challenged separately from the rest of the law – except for the Medicaid provision – so the rest of the law automatically stands.
The premise of the arguments against Obamacare was that Congress in passing it was violating the Constitution by creating a right it doesn’t have – the right to compel commerce by forcing you to buy something.
This might be true if the penalty for not engaging in commerce was a fee. But if it’s considered a tax, then Congress can be deemed – as it was today by the Court – merely to be exercising its Constitutional right to tax you.
There was not a majority on the Court to hold Obamacare Constitutional if the penalty was considered a fee instead of a tax.
The Medicaid expansion was allowed, but the Court limite the penalties that could be assessed on states that decide not to comply with it.
H/T to SCOTUSblog for its coverage of the announcement.