The justices voted 5-4 that Congress has the power to have Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the four liberal Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan in the ruling. Writing in the majority opinion, Justice Roberts wrote:
Simply put, Congress may tax and spend. This grant gives the federal government considerable influence even in areas where it cannot directly regulate.
“The federal government may enact a tax on an activity that it cannot authorize, forbid or otherwise control.
Dissenting Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito argued that the entire health care act is unconstitutional.
Under the ACA, virtually all Americans would be required to have health insurance or pay a fine beginning in 2014. This “individual mandate” has been an ongoing bone of contention, with conservatives charging that it is illegal under the US Constitution. 26 Republican-controlled states have challenged the law on these grounds.
The Court has limited the law’s extension of the Medicaid program for the poor, on the grounds that the federal government cannot threaten to withhold money from states that are not in compliance.
The ACA was passed in 2009 without one Republican in Congress voting for it and has become known as a signature legislaitve achievement of Obama’s presidency. It was the biggest overhaul of the US’s healthcare system since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.
Nearly 50 million — 16.3 percent — of Americans do not have health insurance. According to US Census Bureau figures, 30.7 percent of Hispanics are uninsured and 20.8 percent of African-Americans; in contrast, 18.1 percent of Asians are uninsured and 15.4 percent of whites.
While polls have suggested that a majority of Americans wish to see the law overturned, many Americans are in favor of some of its provisions, such as those that allow for children to remain on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26 and another that bans insurance companies from withholding coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Indeed, the ruling was a “surprise victory” for the Obama administration, which had undergone “tough questioning” by the court during oral arguments in March. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the health care law has been widely anticipated to have major repercussions on the US presidential election which is only four months away.
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Photo of protesters outside the Supreme Court this morning by Care2 blogger Sam Taxy