Thursday, June 28, 2012

Obamacare Mostly Constitutional, Says Divided Supreme Court

The much anticipated decision is in.  A divided court upheld the Affordable Care Act, dubbed "Obamacare."
The Supreme Court held that under the Act, Congress did not intend the penalty assessed if individuals did not obtain health insurance to be a tax, but that Congress's intentions were not controlling on the Court as to whether the penalty was actually a tax.  Thus, by ruling that the penalty was not intended to be a tax, the Court held that the Anti-Injunction Act is not implicated.  What this means, is that the Court did not dismiss this case and tell appellants to wait until they have actually paid the penalty before coming back to the Supreme Court and asking for a refund. Rather than having to wait until 2014 to decide the constitutionality of the individual mandate/penalty, the Court chose to dispense with the challenge to the ACA now.
The Court next held that Congress could not impose the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause.  But, the Court held, the Act can be upheld as arising under Congress's taxing authority.  In rejecting the Commerce Clause as authority for the individual mandate, the Court explained that the ACA did not regulate commerce so much as it required individuals to engage in it. So a mandate to purchase broccolli is not the next move for Congress.  This is the slippery slope where the Supreme Court drew its line.  The individual mandate to purchase health insurance is nevertheless constitutional.  In upholding the mandate, the Court explained that the tax was not so large that there is no choice but to purchase health insurance, and that not purchasing insurance has no legal consequences beyond payment of the tax.
The Court struck down the penatly assessed to States that choose not to participate in the expansion of Medicaide as being an unconstiutional use of Congress's spending power.  This the Court ruled however, does not invalidate the remaining provisions of the ACA.


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