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Segal: Supreme Court gives Obama benefit of the doubt

Jeffrey Segal, chairman of the Department of Political

Jeffrey Segal, chairman of the Department of Political Science and professor at Stony Brook University and a recent Guggenheim fellow Credit: Stony Brook University

In a surprising and complicated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate that was the central part of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul as within Congress's taxing authority. In passing the bill, the administration had labeled the monetary punishment a penalty, not a tax.

As the scope of the taxing power is significantly greater than the substantial but not limitless scope of the Commerce Clause, the Supreme Court majority gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. Conservatives around the country will be very upset that Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals on this point.

The court's complicated opinion did find that the Affordable Care Act is beyond the court's commerce clause authority, but because it is within Congress's taxing authority, the commerce problem does not matter.

The act is not only invalid in terms of the commerce clause, it is not even valid as a "necessary and proper" means of regulating commerce.

The act is likely to persevere even if Mitt Romney wins in November. The Republicans will remain in control of the House, but even if they take the Senate, they won't have the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster. Once people start getting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, it will become nearly impossible to revoke.

Jeffrey Segal is chairman of the Department of Political Science and professor at Stony Brook University and a recent Guggenheim fellow.

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