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Updated Jun 28, 2012, 6:45 am Originally posted Jun 28, 2012, 6:11 am
On a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, boosting health care reform in a dramatic victory for President Barack Obama in an election year.
The majority of the court, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the individual mandate is constitutional because it is a tax.
Read a copy of the complete ruling
While there were not five votes to uphold the law based on Congress' constitutional power to regulate commerce, the majority agreed that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance is the equivalent of 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.
The court limited the Medicaid provision of the law, but did not entirely invalidate it. States that don't provide Medicaid coverage to people under 130 percent of the poverty line can lose new federal funding, but not the funding that was provided previously, the court said.
In upholding the individual mandate, the court wrote:
Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.
The most straightforward reading of the individual mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance. But, for the reasons explained, the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. It is therefore necessary to turn to the Government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to “lay and collect Taxes.”
Because the court rejected the Obama administration's argument under the Commerce Clause, some national news organizations initially reported—erroneously—that the law had been struck down.
Roberts was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagen. Justice Anthony Kennedy read the dissent in court.
The court's ruling on what is popularly known as "Obamacare" gives the president a boost as he seeks reelection in November, a pollster said.
"You can hear the sigh of relief at the White House," said Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The decision "allows the president's signature achievement to stand. Since politics is the ultimate zero-sum game, what's good for Obama is bad for Gov. Mitt Romney," Brown said.
"The decision, however, will allow Romney to continuing campaigning against the law and promising to repeal it," Brown said.