The so-called individual mandate to buy health insurance, the key part of President Obama's signature health care law, has survived, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning.
The court ruled five to four that the mandate is unconstitutional, but it can remain as part of Congress's power under a taxing clause. The court said that the government will be allowed to tax people for not having health insurance.
Writing for the majority, which includes Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer,Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts declared, "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," the court said in the ruling.
In the minority dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "In our view the Act before us is invalid in its entirety. It is true that if an individual does not purchase insurance, he or she affects the insurance market to a degree. But the Government’s theory would make one’s mere existence the basis for federal regulation. There would be no structural limit on the power of Congress. As a result, the Government’s theory would change the relation between the citizens and the Federal Government in a fundamental way. “
Kennedy is joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
The ruling will have immediate effects on the presidential race. Obama has called his health care law "the right thing to do," even as polling has determined that the law is unpopular. Republican challenger Mitt Romney, meanwhile, had vowed to repeal so-called "ObamaCare" as soon as he became president, despite championing remarkably similar legislation as the governor of Massachusetts.
In court, the government argued that the health care law was passed partly because in 2009, 50 million people lacked health insurance. Costs of the uninsured were spiraling out of control and were being shifted to those who are insured, doctors and insurance companies. And, people with so-called pre-existing conditions were being denied coverage. The law offered insurance reforms but mandated that almost every American buy health insurance by 2014.
The government argued that Congress was well within its authority to pass the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. As a secondary argument the government also said Congress had the authority to pass the mandate under its taxing authority.
Opponents -- 26 states, an independent business group and two private citizens -- said that while Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, it doesn't have the power to require people to buy a product. The opponents argued that the claim of federal power was both "unprecedented and unbounded."
In March, the court devoted more than six hours of arguments to different aspects of the law.