Healthcare win: Obamacare survives SCOTUS


The Supreme Court ruled today on the Obamacare provisions and upheld it almost in its entirety.  I am surprised by this, I was fully expecting to be writing a post right now saying just the opposite.  Even more surprising is that Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority of the opinion and Kennedy wrote the dissent.  If anything could be done to restore some small amount of faith in the judicial branch of the government, this was it.

Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.

The only thing they’ve really changed is that Congress doesn’t have the ability to punish states for non-compliance by taking away Medicaid funding.  Everything else stands based on Congress’ right to impose taxes — the opinion seems to say that the mandate is functionally a tax, and therefore Constitutional.

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.

I’m still waiting for an online copy. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

Comments

  1. RahXephon, Waahmbulance Driver for St. Entitlement's Hospital says

    Maybe I just don’t understand how the Medicaid funding situation works, but it seems to me that taking away Medicaid funding from states for non-compliance would really punish people in poverty, not the states themselves.

  2. Who Knows? says

    RahXephon, The Federal government often uses the carrot on a stick approach to get the states to do what they want. One of the most visible instances of this is the 55 MPH speed limit.

    From what I heard, the cost to the states due to the changes in the Healthcare Reform Act are not all that great and it is in the state’s interest to conform.

    But, given your username. I doubt this means much to you.

  3. says

    The thing is, I’m not that surprised that Roberts was the swing vote in this, and you hit on the exact reason. “If anything could be done to restore some small amount of faith in the judicial branch of the government, this was it.”

    John Roberts is very concerned about the legitimacy of the Court. It’s something that he cares very deeply about and has said on a number of occasions. I also don’t think he wants to be known as being Chief Justice of one of the most publicly distrusted Courts in history.

    It’s important to put this ruling in context as well. One of the reasons why the Court has such low poll numbers is the Citizen’s United decision and just last week they struck down a Montana law that would have poked a hole in CU by allowing states to regulate political spending for state elections. The justices made it clear they were striking it down because of Citizens United, in fact. So on the heels of that, Roberts didn’t want to appear that the Court is entirely partisan, so this was really the only way to keep the Montana decision from being used as a bludgeon to make them look worse.

    The thing is, I don’t really see this as bolstering the Court at all. I see John Roberts protecting his legacy, but the usual suspects like Scalia and Thomas demonstrated that they are the partisan hacks that cynics like me take them for.

    For example, Scalia was widely expected by legal scholars (who, I might add are not as cynical as I am and were also wrong) to uphold the mandate because of his interpretation of Wickard that he wrote the majority opinion for in Raich. Basically, in Raich he said the federal government could prosecute people who were growing marijuana as a part of the Commerce Clause even if the states made it legal. It upheld the expansion of the Commerce Clause in the Wickard case from the 30’s that basically said that even if you were growing crops (like wheat, not weed) that weren’t being sold across state lines (or at all), because you were now no longer required to participate in the market for crops, it was affecting interstate commerce and therefore was Congress’s right to regulate it. Personally I think Wickard and Raich are both kinda ludicrous, but they were a major underpinning to the state’s case. And Roberts, in the majority opinion, still rejected that (Section III-A says that it’s not applicable, but Section III-B says that Congress’s power to tax makes the mandate legal), but it’s strange to have seen Scalia do it.

    Going back to the Montana case, Thomas was expected to vote to uphold that law since he’s pretty consistent on cases like this. It’s very, very rare that Thomas ever sides with the federal government over the states, so much so that he’s said that it should be constitutional for individual states to have official religions, even if the federal government cannot. He said so in his concurring opinion in the 2004 pledge case where he basically argued that the Establishment Clause was never meant to protect *individual* freedom of religion, but rather to prevent the federal government from interfering with individual states establishing religions (http://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/communications/PledgeThomas.pdf). And again, legal experts who seem to think that Clarence Thomas is in possession of integrity said that there’s no way he would rule against a state making its own laws. Yet rule against it he did.

    This was a fascinating session for SC wonks like me. But I don’t think it does anything to establish that this Court is any more credible than it was two weeks ago.

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