Jonathan Ernst / Reuters Demonstrators in favor of Obamacare gather at the Supreme Court building in Washington March 4, 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider on Wednesday a second major legal attack on President Barack Obama's healthcare law, with conservative challengers taking aim at a pivotal part of the statute that authorizes tax subsidies to help people afford insurance. 

Obamacare and the Court

Handing Health Policy Back to the People

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Chief Justice John Roberts in front of the Supreme Court. (Larry Downing / Courtesy Reuters)

In the weeks and months before the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, some pundits dubbed the lawsuit "the case of the century." Whatever the Court decided, commentators and activists on both sides of the aisle thought that it would resolve the fate of President Barack Obama's health-care reforms. The ruling would reverberate throughout the worlds of law and politics.

Instead, the Court surprised everyone. A five-member majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the ACA on grounds that few Court watchers had anticipated. The case may well find its way into the annals of the law. But in the end, Roberts' opinion removed the Court from the debate about health care and put the conversation back in the realm of politics.


The debate over health care began when Obama promised to make health insurance affordable for all. To succeed, he needed to cut a deal with the health-care companies, which had long opposed such reform. In return for an expansion of the pool of insurance subscribers to cover their costs, the insurance companies agreed to neither deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions nor impose higher rates on them. To achieve this compromise, the Obama administration devised what would become known as the individual mandate: the government would require Americans to either

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