Obamacare ruled constitutional

In case you somehow missed it, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the Affordable Care Act (derisively dubbed ‘Obamacare’ by its opponents) does not violate the Constitution and will still carry the force of law.

For a rundown of the decision, check out Ezra Klein’s blog:

“The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld”

That’s what SCOTUSBlog wrote moments after the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the health-care law. But it wasn’t upheld in the way most thought it would be. The decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the Court’s liberals, and Justice Anthony Kennedy casting his vote with the conservatives.

This will be covered, in many quarters, as a political story. It means President Obama — and Solicitor General Don Verrilli — are popping the champagne. It means that Mitt Romney and the Republicans who were fighting the health-care law have suffered a setback. It will be covered in other quarters as a legal story: It is likely to be central to Roberts’ legacy, and perhaps even to how we understand the divisions in the Court going forward.

To read the full decision for yourself (it’s only 193 pages – go nuts), click here.

For a simplified explanation of what the law does, and why people opposed it in the first place, check out this great thread on Reddit.

For my reaction, please consult the following .gif of Ron Swanson:

Ron Swanson dances

More information and analysis will be coming for a while, so I suggest you monitor my Twitter feed, where I’ll do my best to RT the choicest nuggets.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!


This is kind of interesting. Chief Justice John Roberts ‘crossed the aisle’ (he usually decides with the rigid conservatives on the bench) and voted with the majority. This surprised a lot of people. The particularly fascinating tidbit is the reason why then-Senator Barack Obama voted against Justice Roberts’ confirmation to the court:

The problem I had is that when I examined Judge Roberts’ record and history of public service, it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak. In his work in the White House and the Solicitor General’s Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.

So while this wasn’t officially a ruling on racism and sexism (although you’re crazy if you don’t think that making health care more affordable disproportionately benefits women and people of colour), it seems that, at least on this issue, President Obama’s estimation of Justice Roberts was at least partially mistaken.


While I’m sure some of these are sarcasm, Poe’s Law is in full effect here. If you don’t understand why this is funny, please let me know in an e-mail, and I will send a kindergarten teacher to your house to give you a basic civics lesson.


Ooh, conspiracy theory. Justice Scalia’s dissent was written as though it was a majority decision. Was it written before the decision was reached, or was there a flip after the dissent was written?


This may be good news in the short-term, but court watchers note that this decision has far-reaching effects that should make conservatives much happier than they currently are:

The business about “new and potentially vast” authority is a fig leaf. This is a substantial rollback of Congress’ regulatory powers, and the chief justice knows it. It is what Roberts has been pursuing ever since he signed up with the Federalist Society. In 2005, Sen. Barack Obama spoke in opposition to Roberts’ nomination, saying he did not trust his political philosophy on tough questions such as “whether the Commerce Clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce.” Today, Roberts did what Obama predicted he would do.

Roberts’ genius was in pushing this health care decision through without attaching it to the coattails of an ugly, narrow partisan victory. Obama wins on policy, this time. And Roberts rewrites Congress’ power to regulate, opening the door for countless future challenges. In the long term, supporters of curtailing the federal government should be glad to have made that trade.


  1. Randomfactor says

    He specifically mentioned the broad use of the Commerce Clause in his reasoning, too…

  2. baal says

    I just read some of the comments…total non-sequiturs “it’s too hot here, I think I’ll move to Mojave Desert”

    Reminds me of the time Rush L. suggested he’d go to Costa Rica if the ACA passed.

    Also, last I checked Canada is a sovereign county and not some resort for Americans who are annoyed with the US FEDGOV.

  3. says

    Also we have WAY MORE SOCIALIST health care laws than the USA does. If you’re trying to avoid government mandates, this is the last place on Earth you’d want to move to.

  4. says

    OK, now I definitely want a bunch of Pharyngulites to move here (as I just commented over there) to balance the batshit insane morons who are threatening to come up.

  5. magistramarla says

    Since my hubby is one of those Federal worker “leeches” that the repubs hate so much, we’re worried that if Romney gets elected, his retirement funds and our healthcare might disappear.
    He has an ace up his sleeve – a PHD in a highly desirable field, which he will earn early next year.
    If Romney is elected, we might be on our way there if one of your universities can use his expertise.

  6. shargash says

    How many government mandates does Canada have to buy products you don’t want from private corporations? My principal objection to the mandate was always that it was a corporatist attempt to extract economic rents from ordinary people to be delivered directly to the private health insurace industry. The only arguments I have ever heard in favor of it are right wing talking points (ZOMG! Somebody is going to get some benefit and I HAVE TO PAY FOR IT!!!)

    The mandate was a right-wing idea developed by the Heritage Foundation as an answer to Hillarycare in the early 90s and first implemented by a Republican governor. Now we have the very people who came up with the idea trashing it as Communist government overreach, while the same people who have disliked the idea for the past 2 decades are cheering it as some great advance in the welfare state. It just seems like so much partisan fuckwittery to me.

  7. says

    How many government mandates does Canada have to buy products you don’t want from private corporations?

    A few, but they tend to focus on car insurance rather than health insurance.

    But yes, your point is taken. I think a lot of the damage has been mitigated by tighter regulations on insurers, requiring that they spend a certain amount on actual care rather than fattening their profit margins.

  8. shargash says

    I’m just frustrated that we had the chance to improve the bill by having the mandate ruled unconstitutional. The bill without the mandate is a nice improvement to America’s abysmal health care system. In addition, with the mandate gone, the private insurers would have been over a barrel, and Obama (if he wanted to) could have put a lot of pressure on them. The insurers had the power to block the bill before it was pased, but now that it’s passed (assuming the mandate had been ruled unconstitutional), they would need a bill to remedy their exposure. That’s a huge difference in relative power.

    But what we’ve witnessed these past months is “progressives” frantic to protect Obama from embarrassment, even going to far as to suggest Supreme Court justices should be impeached if they ruled against the HCA (now where have I heard that before?). It’s as if principles mean nothing, and partisanship everything.

  9. Sheesh says

    It should probably be noted that the ACA without the mandate is unsustainable. (That could be good or bad depending on which Congress is around when the resultant healthcare system finally breaks).

    Without healthy people “forced” to be in the pool, and insurers actually-forced to insure all comers there is no way to control costs (short of insurance company altruism!), and costs go up for the those that must remain in the pool (people that are actually sick or have cause to fear getting sick or injured). Eventually those sick/endangered people are priced out (or die, haha only serious) and the pool shrinks so prices must go up. This is the death spiral we should all know about, but you kind of ignored. At some point, some outraged party goes to Congress and a new law happens: maybe it’s patients that need care (us, the public), maybe it’s hospitals (money’s down, costs are up), hell maybe it’s the insurance companies finally seeing their bottom line get hurt from not having enough rich-yet-sick people to make their business sustainable. At that point we roll the dice…

    – If it’s short term and we managed to re-elect Obama and somehow get back Congress, yay! Medicare for all! Single-payer! Socialism! Republicans pound sand!

    – If it’s [short term and we’re more realistic] Obama with a Repub Congress, it’s what? Gridlock while people die for four years, or another compromise that feeds insurance companies.

    – But, perish the thought, it’s Romney and a rubber stamp congress (or whatever inevitable Republican in 2016 or 2012), what do we get then? I don’t even know because they won’t say what repeal and replace even means or how they are going to pay for it. All we know is that it will be shitty for anyone that isn’t rich or white.

  10. says

    Correct me where I’m wrong, but all I’ve seen from “Obamacare” is that I’ll be forced to pay into health insurance to the tune of hundreds of dollars per month (or suffer a tax penalty) whether my job pays for my insurance or not, or even if I’m unemployed. Kind of having a hard time seeing how this is something that’s going to *help* poor and working people. Is there a detail I’m missing? Is affordable health insurance actually on its way because of this court decision?

  11. bryanfeir says

    Yes, you’re missing a few details.

    Primarily, the reason the individual mandate is there is to balance the increased requirements for the insurance companies:
    – They are not allowed to deny coverage based on ‘pre-existing conditions’ anymore;
    – They are not allowed to stop providing you coverage just because you hit some arbitrary cap of money.

    Those are the two big ones (others, such as dependent coverage up to age 26, are more minor); these are the ones that insurance companies used for years to cut their costs and boost their profits, at the expense of the people who found themselves without insurance when they needed it. As Sheesh points out above, the main reason for the individual mandate is so that people who are healthy can’t opt out of the system and thus starve it of funds.

  12. says

    the major part that’ll help actually poor people is a different part of the ACA, but without the individual mandate, the ACA would very quickly become an unfinanceable clusterfuck (because basically people would only get insured after they’ve become sick). Actually poor people will, as of 2014, be able to get public health insurance (mediacaid is being expanded to everyone who makes up to 133% of the poverty line)

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