The central provision of President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Twenty-six states had challenged the law as unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in Thursday’s 5-4 decision. Roberts announced that the court upheld the individual mandate as a tax, saying it was not valid as an exercise of Congress’ commerce clause power. Under those terms, Congress retains the power to penalize those who fail to purchase health insurance under the program’s individual mandate provision.

“The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,” Roberts wrote. “That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

Activists on the political left are divided over whether the decision is a victory. In a live report on the court’s announcement broadcast by “Democracy Now!” Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore praised the decision as a move in the right direction, saying it was a serious defeat for the right-wing that had attacked the law. But Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician and member of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the existing law harms low-income Americans by forcing them to become customers of private health insurance companies, which will likely result in their having to go without other necessities or find alternative means of obtaining them.

Read more from the New York Times here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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