WASHINGTON D.C. - In a landmark decision this morning the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act, also dubbed Obamacare.
The 5-4 decision today, Thursday, was a surprise to most considering the court's conservative majority.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote, siding with the four liberal-leaning justices. Roberts, along with justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Meyer ruled in the majority.
Dissenting were justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
At issue was a provision in the health care act, which Congress' Democratic majority approved in 2010 along party lines, requiring all U.S. residents to obtain health care coverage.
Today's decision overturns two lower court rulings that sided with opponents who argued Congress overreached the commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution regulating economic activity.
A link to the entire Supreme Court ruling is available to read on-line by viewing this story at www.dailysunnews.com
Court not responsible for "consequences of political choices"
Writing for the majority, Roberts says the decision to side with Congress is due to a "general reticence to invalidate the acts of the nation's elected leaders." Roberts continued, "Members of this court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments."
If an act of Congress is unpopular, he notes elected leaders "...can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."
Decision "undermines state sovereignty"
Dissenting opinions take up about a third of the nearly 200-page decision handed down today.
"The values that should have determined our course today are caution, minimalism and the understanding that the federal government is one of limited powers," the four justices wrote for the minority opinion. "But the Court's ruling undermines those values at every turn. In the name of restraint, it overreaches. In the name of cooperative federalism, it undermines state sovereignty."
Reaction swift, divided
Reflecting the divided court, public response this morning was swift and split.
"Without full repeal of Obamacare, millions of Americans will continue to lose their current health coverage, seniors will have fewer Medicare choices, unelected unaccountable bureaucrats will be charged with making health care decisions that should be made by individuals, families and doctors," said Congressman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Pasco who represents the Lower Valley in Washington D.C.
Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, countered, "This is a victory for the health care security and stability of Washington (state) families. Today's ruling means that families and small business owners will continue to benefit from better access, more choices and a health care system that no longer works only for those who can afford it."
Also expressing support for the Supreme Court ruling is the Washington State Hospital Association, which represents all 98 community hospitals in this state, including those in Sunnyside and Prosser.
"The Affordable Care Act is a bold step forward to dramatically reduce the number of people without insurance. The pieces of the law fit together: the expansion of Medicaid to many low-income adults, the creation of the health insurance exchange, the subsidies within the exchange to help low-income and moderate-income families purchase coverage, and the individual mandate," says Scott Bond, president of the Washington State Hospital Association.
"We are also pleased the law will go forward because hospitals have a huge financial stake in the health insurance expansions," Bond continued.
This morning's Supreme Court ruling was also lauded by Families USA, a national organization for health care consumers. "Today's Supreme Court ruling is a clear, unambiguous and complete victory for long-overdue health care reform. It sends an unmistakable message that the building of a better, fairer health care system will continue to move forward," the organization stated.
By contrast, the National Right to Life Committee objected to the decision and called it a mandate for change.
"All voters who care about the value and dignity of human life must do everything they can to elect Mitt Romney and a Congress who are committed to repeal of ObamaCare," said National Right to Life President Carol Tobias. "If President Obama wins re-election, it will mean massive abortion subsidies and it will put the lives of millions at risk through systematic government-imposed rationing of lifesaving medical care."
Potential political impact in Washington state
The impact of a decision upholding Obamacare isn't just about health care, as it might also influence the outcome of Washington state's race for governor.
Rob McKenna is the state's attorney general and a candidate for governor. Two years ago he joined attorneys general from 25 other states in forming a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Today's decision is a setback for McKenna, who with the other challengers won appeals to the health care act in two lower courts.
"Our system of government provides a series of checks and balances, allowing new laws-especially ones that raise major constitutional questions-to be tested in court," McKenna said. "While we're disappointed that this close decision did not find in the states' favor with regard to the individual mandate, the country benefits from a thoughtful debate about the reach of federal power into the legal rights of the states and the personal financial decisions of all Americans."
McKenna found a silver lining in today's decision.
"A majority of the Court also agreed with states' argument that the federal government may not take away existing Medicaid funds from states that choose not to participate in the expansion of the Medicaid program," he said. "Now the federal government must treat the states as equal partners, as both seek to provide health coverage for the poor."