Though the challengers mostly lost on Thursday, the court did affirm one of their basic arguments: that Congress can't use its powers to regulate interstate commerce to require people to buy insurance. Chief Justice Roberts said the government's arguments on this point would fundamentally change "the relation between the citizen and the federal government."
The majority upheld the insurance mandate on other grounds. The chief justice wrote that the penalty's "practical characteristics pass muster as a tax under our narrowest interpretations of the taxing power." He said a person who does not wish to carry health insurance is left with a "lawful choice to do or not do a certain act, so long as he is willing to pay a tax levied on that choice."
Chief Justice Roberts added: "It is well established that if a statute has two possible meanings, one of which violates the Constitution, courts should adopt the meaning that does not do so."
The ruling may give more leeway to states that don't want to cooperate with the law by letting them avoid punishment for refusing to expand Medicaid.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Medicaid portion "violates the Constitution by threatening existing Medicaid funding." He said the remedy for the violation was to preclude the federal government from imposing a sanction on states that decline to accept an expansion of Medicaid under the law's provisions. But he said that remedy "does not require striking down other portions" of the law.
Twenty-six states filed suit the day Mr. Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010, and a cloud of uncertainty had hung over the law ever since. Lower courts issued conflicting rulings on whether the law's insurance mandate was constitutional.
Ace reminds Republicans that there is another way to undo Obamacare.