The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the core of President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, giving him an election-year triumph and preserving most of a law that would expand insurance to millions of people and transform an industry that makes up 18 percent of the nation’s economy.
The justices, voting 5-4, said Congress has the power to make Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty. That requirement is at the core of the law, which also forces insurers to cover people with pre-existing health conditions. The court limited the law’s extension of the Medicaid program for the poor by saying the federal government can’t threaten to withhold money from states that don’t fully comply.
The ruling frames the health-care issue for this year’s elections and is a victory of symbolism as well as substance for Obama. Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, joined four Democratic-selected justices to give the president a majority on a law that has divided the country along ideological and partisan lines throughout his presidency.
Roberts, writing for the court, said Congress had the authority to impose the insurance requirement under its power to levy taxes.
“It is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income but choose to go without health insurance,” Roberts wrote.
Longest ArgumentsThe decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the climax to an epic legal fight that featured the longest courtroom arguments in 44 years, a record number of briefs and extraordinary public interest in a Supreme Court case. The case tested both the constitutional powers of Congress and the willingness of the Roberts court to overrule the other two branches of the federal government.
The dispute marked the first time the Supreme Court had considered a president’s defining legislative accomplishment in the middle of his re-election campaign. The Supreme Court hadn’t considered a law of comparable scope since the justices overturned part of the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1935 during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
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