NEW YORK, June 28 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The U.S. Supreme
Court has upheld Obamacare with barely a legal ripple. Saving
the president's landmark healthcare reform may roil electoral
politics but won't change U.S. legal precedent much. Congress
remains powerful, subject to some useful limits in the Medicaid
The justices affirmed the law by a 5-4 vote, focusing on its
so-called individual mandate, the requirement that virtually all
Americans buy medical insurance or pay a penalty. They bought
the argument that the mandate isn't valid under the
Constitution's Commerce Clause, because it regulates inactivity
- the choice not to buy coverage. But it's legal under the
taxing authority of Congress, the justices said, because the
penalty is actually a tax. The court also shaved the federal
government's ability to punish states that don't comply with the
law's expanded Medicaid coverage.
The decision is a triumph for Obama and his signature
legislative achievement. Rival Mitt Romney and the Republicans
have used the ruling to step up calls for abolishing the law.
Their criticism of the decision itself will probably stress its
dangerous expansion of the federal government's power.
That may score political points, but legally it's off the
mark. As the U.S. economy's complexity has grown, so has
Congress' power to regulate it. Thursday's ruling merely
clarifies that power without fundamentally changing it. The
taxing authority is simply reaffirmed. And the explicit ban on
regulating inactivity isn't a big deal, because Congress has so
many means to desired ends.
Consider its ability to fund healthcare for the uninsured.
Congress could have used an income-tax surcharge, and given a
tax credit to anyone with insurance. Or it could have required
each state to adopt its own mandate - as Massachusetts did when
Romney served as governor - as a condition of receiving certain
federal funding. Both approaches would pass constitutional
In short, today's ruling is more Bush v. Gore than Roe v.
Wade. In Roe, the high court reinterpreted liberty and
transformed politics by upholding abortion rights. In Bush, the
justices set little precedent with a vote-counting opinion that
determined a presidency and, like this case, had profound
political and economic consequences.
Despite harsh criticism of all three decisions, faith in the
rule of law somehow survives. That's a welcome reminder of the
Constitution's resilience amid political turmoil.
- The U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 upheld President Barack
Obama's healthcare reform, ruling by a 5-4 vote that Congress
had the authority under its taxing power to require virtually
all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The
landmark decision paves the way for the major provisions of the
Affordable Care Act of 2010 to go into effect in 2014.
(Reporting by Reynolds Holding, a Reuters Breakingviews
columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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