In perhaps what will go down as one of the biggest decisions in the 2010s decade, the Supreme Court of the United States unexpectedly sided with the Obama Administration in support of the Affordable Choice Act – ACA (or Obamacare, if you must… Romneycare if you’re even worse). At least it mostly did. The 5 – 4 decision was not swayed by the expected swing vote of Justice Kennedy, but instead by the Chief Justice himself John Roberts. This is notable as typically Chief Justices do not put themselves out there as the swing vote.
What can be described as a massive victory for the Obama Administration comes with a gigantic asterisk. While the law was mostly upheld, the individual mandate was not upheld under the Commerce Clause (Congressional power to regulate commerce between the states) upon which the case was originally made, but instead as being within the power of the Congress to tax. The court stated:
…it is abundantly clear the Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated by the Constitution. The Court today holds that our Constitution protects us from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause so long as we abstain from the regulated activity. But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes.
While having no immediate effect on the law, as SCOTUS ruled in favor, this distinction does have the future effect of making the path to overturning easier in theory. Only requiring 51 votes in the Senate to end a tax, a Republican hold of the House, capturing of the Senate, and victory by Mr. Romney in the fall would put ACA right back in the spotlight – and probably straight for the firing squad. A victory by Mr. Obama in November and/or a Democratic hold of the Senate would effectively shelve any talk of icing this law until 2014 at the earliest – in the event of a hold by Mr. Obama probably not until 2016.