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Your Handy WHD Guide to the Obamacare Ruling

Here’s what to look for today as the decision is handed down.

There are actually four things going on:

1. The Justices must decide whether they can rule on the rest of Obamacare at all. There’s some provision written two years after the Civil War ended that prohibits legal challenges to a tax until after it goes into effect. If the Justices decide that the penalty enforcing the health care purchase mandate is a tax – which it’s not, because the law says it’s a fee, but whatever – and that the 1867 provision applies, it may decide to wait until 2015 to rule on Obamacare, when the penalty begins to get collected.

VERY LIKELY OUTCOME: The Justices will decide they can rule TODAY. Otherwise, they face the kind of wrath from viewers on the edge of the seats not seen since the final episode of The Sopranos.

2. The judges will rule on whether the mandate is Constitutional.


Now, if the mandate is Constitutional, it’s basically game over, because most of the rest of the act is not being challenged separately. That is, the mandate survives, all of Obamacare survives except for one provision, discussed below.

3. If the Court strikes down the mandate, it must then rule on the rest of the law – whether other provisions are “severable” of not. This could get complicated. It may, for example, choose to solely strike down the provisions that seems inextricably linked to the mandate.¬†However, if it finds the all other provisions are not severable, it could strike down the whole law, which is not complicated.

LIKLEY OUTCOME: Reply hazy, try again.

4. There is a lesser known provision of the law that expands eligibility for Medicaid. If the whole law is struck down then, obviously, this goes too. But even if the mandate is upheld – which, remember, forces the Court to uphold the rest of Obamacare – this provision could still be struck down separately.

SOMEWHAT LIKELY OUTCOME: This provision survives.

I hope that’s not too confusing, and that it helps you follow the ruling.

H/T to Amy Howe and Lyle Denniston who offer fuller explanations of all this here and here at SCOTUSblog.

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