June 29, 2012

Heart of health law still beating

Roberts leads way in ruling that upholds Obama's law

By ROBERT BARNES The Washington Post

(Continued from page 1)

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Supporters of President Obama’s health care law celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington after Thursday’s ruling. It’s “a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure,” the president said.

The Associated Press

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Patricia McGargill, a nurse practitioner at Portland Community Health Center, tends to Maha Dawood, 18, of Portland while her mother Fadeela Maykha waits Thursday.

Staff photo by Derek Davis

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Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan agreed with her.

The legal battles over the health care legislation began, literally, moments after Obama signed it into law. Dozens of lawsuits nationwide challenged it. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a suit brought by Florida and 25 other states, as well as a challenge brought by the National Federation of Independent Business.

The challenges were initially dismissed as harmless, but an argument took hold to illustrate the unlimited power Congress was assuming: that if it could do this, it could require Americans to buy broccoli.

It was especially bitter for the conservative legal movement that five members of the court -- including Roberts -- embraced most of their arguments, and it still lost the war.

Roberts wrote that he agreed with challengers, that Congress and the administration were arguing that the commerce clause gives the federal government the power to require its citizens to do almost anything, "to act as the government would have them act."

"This is not the country the framers of our Constitution envisioned," Roberts wrote.

Joined by the conservatives, he also rejected the argument that requiring health care coverage was different, because everyone at some point will require medical care.

"The Commerce Clause is not a general license to regulate an individual from cradle to grave, simply because he will predictably engage in particular transactions," he wrote.

But Roberts said it is the court's duty to look for ways in which acts of Congress can be upheld, and he found it in Congress's taxing power, a point pressed during oral arguments by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

Roberts acknowledged that the law refers to the "shared responsibility payment" due on a person's 2014 tax returns if he or she does not obtain health insurance as a penalty, not a tax. But he noted that it was calculated as a portion of a person's income and due to the Internal Revenue Service.

And Congress frequently imposes taxes, such as cigarette taxes, to encourage people to quit smoking.

"Upholding the individual mandate under the Taxing Clause thus does not recognize any new federal power," Roberts wrote. "It determines that Congress has used an existing one."

Kennedy said Roberts and the justices who joined him rewrote the statute in order to save it.

"The act requires the purchase of health insurance and punishes violation of that mandate with a penalty," Kennedy said. "But what Congress called a 'penalty,' the court calls a tax. What Congress called a 'requirement,' the court calls an option. ... In short, the court imposes a tax when Congress deliberately rejected a tax."

On Medicaid, Roberts said Congress crossed a line in threatening states with the loss of existing funding if they did not comply with the new requirements, even if the federal government for now was footing the bill. He said Congress may offer money to entice the states, but may not withdraw funding as a threat.

The conservatives, though, said the solution Roberts offers puts the states in the same coercive place.

"States must choose between expanding Medicaid or paying huge tax sums to the federal fisc for the sole benefit of expanding Medicaid in other states," Kennedy wrote. "If this divisive dynamic between and among states can be introduced at all, it should be by conscious congressional choice, not by court-invented interpretation."


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Susan Clark
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The Supreme Court is close by as Susan Clark of Washington demonstrates against the health care law before the court’s ruling. The court upheld the law 5-4, a tough defeat for Republicans and tea party activists.

The Associated Press


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Today's poll: Health care ruling

Should Congress try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision?



View Results