The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 margin, sidesteps the Commerce Clause debate and validates the individual mandate as a constitutional exercise of Congress’ taxing power.
As a result, almost all of the act is upheld, thanks to Chief Justice Roberts siding with the majority. But by saving the law through the taxation argument, the court sidesteps endorsing an expansion of the commerce clause.
Fancy judicial footwork by the chief justice, I’d say.
The four justices in the minority wanted to toss the whole thing out, which again speaks to the role that the chief justice played. He wasn’t willing to go there — too radical an outcome for him, apparently — and he found a way to avoid it.
In fact, the deeper I read in the opinion and the dissents, the more apparent it is that Roberts undertook a major rescue operation. He was not willing to let the court take what he deemed to be a radical, even partisan course that would undermine its institutional credibility.
This ruling is as much about protecting the court’s integrity as it is about interpreting the law.
Here’s the core of what justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas said in dissent:
“The Act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying nonconsenting States all Medicaid funding. These parts of the Act are central to its design and operation, and all the Act’s other provisions would not have been enacted without them. In our view it must follow that the entire statute is inoperative.”
The court majority also endorsed language expanding Medicaid in the states, although it prevents the federal government from pulling Medicaid money as punishment for states that choose not to go along. That’s the extent of the conservative “win” in the opinion.
No wonder Scalia was in such a foul mood earlier this week. I suspect that mood is going to last a good long time.
– Jay Bookman