Thursday, June 28, 2012

SCOTUS Docketwatch: Affordable Care Act Analysis, Individual Mandate Upheld

* * Full Text of Opinion Here:

Today the Supreme Court ruled to UPHOLD the individual mandate in a complicated, and long decision.  Chief Roberts wrote the controlling majority opinion, accepting the mandate as a valid exercise of the tax power of Congress, but also calling it a violation of the Commerce Clause (59 pgs!), Ginsburg’s concurring opinion (not controlling, 61 pgs) argues that the act is valid under the commerce clause.


I am still reading through the opinion, but some notable points:

  • Chief Justice Roberts provided the tie-breaking vote to uphold the mandate in some form – seemingly as a way to preserve the law despite ruling that it is not a compelled mandate under the Commerce Clause. 
  • Roberts’ Majority opinion describes it as a Tax, where the penalty is a relatively minor financial penalty for choosing to not have insurance, valid under Congress’s Powers
  • Ginsburg’s opinion really pushes the Solicitor General’s argument that the mandate is permitted by the Commerce Clause [see]
  • For some real head games, recall that a third party Washington Lawyer made the tax argument in full (as part of addressing the implications of the Anti-Injunction Act). While Solicitor Verilli did bring it up in his argument, his main argument focused on the Commerce Clause authority.
  • Also – the Court ruled on the Medicaid Expansion Provision: Essentially, States CAN choose to expand coverage to receive federal funds, but they can also REFUSE to participate WITHOUT losing all the funds, i.e. they will continue to operate Medicaid as they do now.  The Court struck down the threat to withhold all funds as Unconstitutional and illegally coercive.
  • Getting lost in all the media shuffle – the Commerce Clause Argument FAILED – this may have a bigger impact on federal power to implement social programs in the future.  Think about some questions!

Plenty more to come – including a wrap-up of the US v. Alvarez decision, which ruled the Stolen Valor Act, 18 U.S.C. § 704 (which criminalized lying about receiving military honors) as a violation of the First Amendment, in a 6-3 vote.

Friends of the Blog (I’m looking at you Luke and Jaypop!!), send your questions to the comments, and I will address them in the next post.


  1. RB - given that the majority opinion was to uphold the (majority of the) law, and that the majority was split on the reasoning WHY they upheld the law (Roberts using tax powers, Ginsberg using commerce clause), how does the decision set a precedent against the use of commerce clause to do similar things? I'm not sure how the other 3 "uphold" votes break down (Are we talking 4+1:4 or 3+2:4?), but doesn't that mean that neither the taxation argument nor the commerce argument was bought, on it's own, by a majority of the justices?

  2. guh... stupid aim validation is still busted.
    that last one's from me.