by Steven Hale
Despite early reports to the contrary from CNN and Fox News, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled that President Obama's Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare," is constitutional. The critical point appears to be that, while the court ruled that the law's mandate — requiring most Americans to buy health insurance — could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause, it could be as a tax.
To be frank, I'm not a constitutional lawyer and I have not read the 193-page opinion, which is available in PDF form here. Additionally, as J.R. Lind points out at Post Politics, achieving complete understanding of a complicated ruling is difficult to do when it's just been released. The job of sifting through the onslaught of analysis and spin filling up the Internet will continue for some time.
With that said, I'll pass along this "Plain English" explainer from Amy Howe at the invaluable SCOTUSblog, who is live blogging the ruling and providing further analysis:
In Plain English: The Affordable Care Act, including its individual mandate that virtually all Americans buy health insurance, is constitutional. There were not five votes to uphold it on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power. That is all that matters. Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose new funds if they didn't comply with the new requirements, rather than all of their funding.
UPDATE: SCOTUSblog with more expert analysis: