As by now you may have heard, in a move that defied the pundits and the odds-makers, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Here’s a link to the opinion. Chief Justice ROBERTS joined Justices GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN in holding that the individual mandate, under which individuals must either maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage or pay a fee to federal government, is a valid exercise of Congress’ power to tax and spend. Congress called the fee a penalty for political reasons, but the government argued in court that it was no different than a tax.
At the same time, a majority of the Court, including Justice Roberts, held that Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause, which is the power Congress relies on for most of the laws it enacts, do not extend to passing laws like the individual mandate. In other words, a majority of the Court accepted the “broccoli” argument that Congress cannot force an individual to purchase a product he/she doesn’t want.
Here are my initial reactions:
(1) You might say this outcome is a lesson not to read too much into how oral argument goes, given that so many people came away from oral argument with the impression that the Court would strike down the ACA. But I wouldn’t read too much into it. From the oral argument transcript, it was pretty clear that Justice Roberts was the most likely of the more conservative justices to vote to uphold the law. At the very least, how 8 of the 9 justices felt about the issues was, in fact, obvious from oral argument.
(2) Although the decision’s impact for this case is obviously a “win” for Congress, it may well be that the impact on future cases is the opposite. The Court’s commerce clause analysis is likely to provide plenty of fodder for challenges to future laws passed under Congress’ commerce clause power.So while this is obviously not an immediate win for the small government camp, it may turn out to be one in the long run.