Remember in late March when political pundits, writers, and journalists, from across the ideological spectrum, lambasted Solicitor General, Don Verrilli, for what was thought at the time, an inadequate and weak defense of the Affordable Care Act. Recordings from the hearing gave much political fodder, as Verrilli stumbled through his defense and gave a few lack luster answers to questions from the conservative Justices. Grainy audio of the defense was even used in an ad attacking the Affordable Care Act. Well, after the events of this morning, Verrilli has been vindicated.
As I’m sure you’re aware, the Supreme Court made a 5-4 decision upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Surprisingly, the swing vote came from, normally conservative, Chief Justice Roberts.
Now, back in March, when Verrilli was getting heat for his performance, critics attacked his use of the Commerce Clause to defend the individual mandate – that got all the headline news. What got little coverage was the fact that this was not the only defense used by Verrilli to justify the individual mandate.
He also argued the penalty imposed by the Affordable Care Act for not purchasing healthcare was essentially a tax, which the United States government absolutely has the power to levy. This defense proved convincing enough for Chief Justice Roberts, and is the reason he decided to side with the 4 more liberal Justices on the issue. Basically, the government cannot force anyone to buy health insurance, but it can tax people who choose not to.
It should be noted that justifying the individual mandate using the Commerce Clause was deemed unconstitutional; this time Justice Roberts agreed with the 4 conservative judges.
Another issue resolved from the ruling deals with the expansion of Medicaid. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded to cover more low-income Americans. This is going to be accomplished by increasing federal expenditures to the states’ Medicaid funds. (Medicaid is already state-run insurance funded by the federal government) The issue with the expansion of Medicaid was what to do with the states that did not want the money. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor held that it was Constitutional to strip states, which did not want the expansion, of all of their Medicaid funding. However, the other Justices felt this was an overreach in Congress’s power. What they settled on was states who did not want the expansion would be left alone. But states that did agree to the expansion must follow all the rules and regulations that come with the extra funding.
Overall, the vast majority of the law was deemed Constitutional with the one caveat about the Medicaid expansion. The ruling was a big win for Obama and the Democrats, but hopefully in the future this ruling will be seen as a win for everybody.