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Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 6:26am

Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Law

The decision appears to be a victory for the Obama administration over critics who said the health care overhaul was unconstitutional.Live updates about the Supreme Court's decision today that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional:

The Supreme Court ruled today that the 2010 Affordable Care Act is constitutional — giving the Obama administration a big election year win over conservative critics who argue that the health care overhaul is a step on the way toward socialized medicine.

In a 5-4 decision that was unusual because conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals and became the deciding vote, the justices ruled that the so-called individual mandate is a tax that Congress can impose on Americans. That undercut the challenge to that provision's constitutionality for allegedly violating the Commerce Clause.

From there, upholding the mandate meant that the rest of the act was judged constitutional as well.

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET. "It Quacks Like A Tax."

On Morning Edition a moment ago, NPR's Nina Totenberg summed up the court's thinking on why the individual mandate is a tax this way:

"It looks like a tax, it walks like a tax, it quacks like a tax."

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET. Why The Mandate Is A Tax:

In the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, he lays out his case for considering the penalty a tax.

"Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes," Roberts explains. "That, according to the Government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition — not owning health insurance — that triggers a tax — the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance."

Roberts admits that this may not be a natural reading of the mandate. But that doesn't matter, according to precedent.

"The question is not whether that is the most natural interpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a 'fairly possible' one," Roberts writes.

Roberts also makes the case that "exactions not labeled taxes nonetheless were authorized by Congress's power to tax."

"In the License Tax Cases, for example, we held that federal licenses to sell liquor and lottery tickets — for which the licensee had to pay a fee — could be sustained as exercises of the taxing power," Robert writes.

Update at 10:24 a.m. ET. The Lede:

"The Supreme Court has upheld President Obama's signature health care law," NPR's Carrie Johnson writes. "Chief Justice John Roberts says the individual mandate survives because the penalty it imposes for not having insurance is considered a tax."

Also, NPR reports, "on the issue of the Medicaid expansion, a majority of the court said Congress can expand Medicaid, but can't strip states of all their Medicaid funds if they fail to do the expansion."

Update at 10:21 a.m. ET. "Yes We Did!":

Supporters of President Obama broke out in chants of "Yes We Did!" outside the court building as word came that the law has been upheld.

Update at 10:19 a.m. ET. The "Money Quote":

According to SCOTUSBlog, "the money quote from the section on the mandate is: 'Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it."

Update at 10:14 a.m. ET. "Entire ACA Is Upheld:"

According to SCOTUSBlog, "the bottom line [is that] the entire ACA [Affordable Care Act] is upheld, with the exception that the federal government's power to terminate states' Medicaid funds is narrowly read."

Update at 10:10 a.m. ET. Individual Mandate Is Constitutional:

In a dramatic conclusion to the year's most divisive legal debate, SCOTUSBlog says the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that the so-called individual mandate in the 2010 Affordable Care Act is constitutional a decision that it's believed means the entire law passed by President Obama survives.

Update at 10:07 a.m. ET. Health Care Opinion Being Released:

About 10 minutes earlier than expected, the health care opinion is now being released.

Update at 10:02 a.m. ET. "Stolen Valor" Act Is Unconstitutional:

In the day's first decision, as SCOTUSBlog reports, the court affirms a Ninth Circuit decision that ruled the so-called Stolen Valor act is unconstitutional. The act made it a crime to lie about being the recipient of military medals. The justices voted 6-3 to affirm the lower court.

Update at 10 a.m. ET. Court Is In Session:

The justices have come to the bench, according to reporters at the court.

Update at 9:55 a.m. ET. On The Timing:

It's most likely, court watchers say, that the health care decision will be released around 10:15 a.m. ET. It will come after some less notable cases.

Meanwhile, NPR's Arnie Seipel reports that outside the court building "the sidewalks are packed." He reports "the strangest sight so far has been a pair of belly dancers with a small band who support single-payer."

Update at 9:50 a.m. ET. There Are Four Issues.

As SCOTUSBlog's Lyle Denniston says, there are really four issues confronting the justices:

-- Does the court have the authority to decide the constitutionality of the so-called individual mandate?

-- If so, is that mandate constitutional?

-- If the mandate isn't constitutional, do some or all parts of the act go down with it?

-- Is the act's expansion of Medicaid constitutional?

SCOTUSBlog, by the way, is also live blogging.

Our Original Post:

If everything goes as expected, sometime between 10 a.m. ET and 10:30 a.m. ET we should get word about the Supreme Court's most-anticipated decision of the year on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; the health care overhaul enacted in 2010.

Every U.S. news outlet, including NPR, has exhaustively previewed the decision, so we won't go over that ground yet again, except to point to the post we did Wednesday called "Here's How To Learn What The Supreme Court Says About Health Care." It has background and links you may find useful.

We'll use this post to cover the news as it comes in, so as decision time draws near be sure to hit your "refresh" button to see our latest updates.

NPR's Ari Shapiro, Carrie Johnson and Nina Totenberg will be reporting on the NPR Newcast and Morning Edition once the decision is released, and on All Things Considered later in the day. At 7 p.m. ET, NPR will be broadcasting and streaming special coverage of the decision and what it means. Click here to find an NPR member station.

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