On March 23, 2010, President obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. The law was almost immediately challenged in federal courtroom, leading to three days of oral arguing at the Supreme Court in March of 2012. And as if the bets weren’t already high enough, the justices were expected to issue its final decision in the middle of the presidential campaign.
One crucial question before the justices involved the constitutionality of the “individual mandate, ” the requirement that almost all Americans either buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. Defending the laws and regulations, the Obama administration argued that the Constitution’s commerce clause presented Congress the power to enact the mandate, because an individual’s decision not to buy health insurance affects interstate commerce. The challengers countered that the mandate was unconstitutional because Congress was trying to regulate inactivity- that is, the refusal to buy health insurance.
The other main question stemmed from the part of the ACA that induced more people eligible for Medicaid. In the ACA, Congress devoted the states a selection: Comply with all the new Medicaid rules or risk losing all their federal funding for the program. The challengers argued that Congress had overstepped its power, because it could not use the threat of cutting off the funding to force the states to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
After the oral statement, the future of the individual mandate appeared to be in real mistrust. And when Chief Justice John Roberts speak the summing-up of his opinion on June 27, he took spectators at the court on a roller-coaster ride. Roberts and his four conservative peers spurned the government’s commerce clause argument. But in a surprising turn of events, Roberts’ four more liberal colleagues joined him in defending the mandate on a basis that had get relatively little attention: The penalty imposed on individuals who did not buy health insurance was a tax, which the Constitution lets Congress to impose. However, by a recorded vote of 7-2, the justices agreed with the challengers that the Medicaid expansion provision outperformed Congress’ authority.
Interest in the ruling operated so high that the court’s website gate-crashed, temporarily limiting access to the ruling to the hard copies distributed by the court’s Public Information Office. And confusion briefly reigned when some television systems erroneously reported that the mandate had been hit down.
A few weeks later, Jan Crawford of CBS News reported that Roberts had originally voted to strike down the mandate before modifying his head. Crawford’s story simply fueled the sense that Roberts was “squishy”- so much better so that, when conservatives prepared to fill vacancies on the Supreme court in 2017 and 2018, they specifically mentioned wanting to avoid another select like Roberts.
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