Following the Supreme Court’s announcement on June 28 that President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act is indeed constitutional, the Chief Executive and fellow Democrats hailed the decision as a win for the American people. Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, wrote the majority opinion for the court in the 5-4 decision on the mandate, which requires that all Americans (with very few exceptions) must purchase health care insurance. The ruling found that Congress indeed has the authority to enforce the healthcare law’s individual mandate, which will require most U.S. taxpayers to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Justice Roberts maintained that the mandate of healthcare reform is a tax, and allowable under the U.S. Constitution. "Nothing in the Constitution guarantees that individuals may avoid taxation by inactivity," Roberts said during the publication of the court’s decision. The Chief Justice did acknowledge the divisiveness the law has caused in the nation. However, he said policy decisions belong to the elected branches of government, not the Court. "It is not our job to save the people from the consequences of their political decisions," he said.
Roberts joined liberals on the court such as Sotomayor in upholding the mandate at the heart of the underlying law. Obama voted against Roberts's nomination in 2005 as a junior Illinois senator, but 22 Democrats backed the chief justice, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Not one Republican voted against Roberts, who was nominated by then-President George W. Bush.
The decision allows Chief Justice Roberts to avoid the severe repercussions that both sides of the case had feared. The court did not strike down Obama’s signature domestic achievement, nor did it give its approval to an expansion of Congressional powers to regulate commerce.
Republicans in the House of Representatives announced soon after they would vote on repealing the full law on July 11.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, normally a swing vote, voted with the conservative minority. Writing the dissent, Kennedy said "The majority rewrites the statute Congress wrote" by deciding the mandate is a tax. The dissent said that the Obamacare mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law should be struck down. The law is "invalid in its entirety," Kennedy said.
Apparently validating a post-decision tweet by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who wrote on Twitter: “Obama lied. Freedom died,” President Obama had earlier denied that the key individual mandate was a tax while Congress deliberated on healthcare reform in 2010. In the political environment of that time, Congress would probably not have passed the bill if it were deemed a tax. However, Justice Roberts saw that it is indeed a tax and thus can be fully implemented.
Obamacare may still face some challenges since suits challenging the mandate were filed by 26 state attorneys general and the National Federation of Independent Business, as well as other organizations. According to AP, Karen Harned of NFIB said she was "very disappointed" in the court's ruling. "There's going to be a public outcry from our members. I can assure you of that," Harned said.
Another significant group that opposes the Obamacare mandate is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has called upon Catholics all over the country to fast, pray and take action against the healthcare reform. In a statement, the USCCB declared, “For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable.” The bishops took issue with several points of the law:
First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy. The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of “high risk” insurance pools that would have covered abortion.”
Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context. We have provided extensive analyses of ACA’s defects with respect to both abortion and conscience. The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACA’s new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHS’s “preventive services” mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.
Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly. ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money. This undermines the Act’s stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need.
Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today. The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above. We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.
Catholic activist Matt Smith, who leads an organization called Catholic Advocate said after the ruling, “The 'individual mandate' was just one problem with the law. Our tax dollars are still being used to subsidize abortion and our Catholic institutions are still being forced to violate our beliefs.”
In an unsigned op-ed in the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, approval was voiced for the Supreme Court's decision and Obama's success in bringing about health care reform that had eluded presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton. Wrote NCR, "However complicated the intricate policy aspects of the Affordable Care Act, however confusing the actuarial tables, however conflicting the legal principles at stake, the moral issue is as clear as day: Every industrialized country in the world has found a better fix to the issue of health care than has the U.S.
Only the U.S. is so beholden to powerful, entrenched corporate interests that we have failed to achieve universal access to health care. It is time for the nation to find the political will to defend the principles that defined the Affordable Care Act."
Affordable care for all. Access for all. Lower costs for all. That is the recipe for a decent society and any continued obstruction is properly called indecent."
Democrats, for their part, were jubilant about the apparent affirmation of President Obama’s signature legislation. For example, Democratic Party Executive Director Patrick Gaspard wrote on Twitter: 'it's constitutional. Bitches.' Also, according to The Blaze website, Gaspard had also tweeted 'Take that MOTHERF**KERS!", but subsequently erased the tweet.
(Ed. note: this version corrects an error in which the National Catholic Register was incorrectly identified as the source of an op-ed that is now correctly attributed to the National Catholic Reporter.)