Supreme Court upholds healthcare law (mostly)

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5-4 in favor of letting most provisions of the healthcare reform law stand. (The ruling did strike down a provision that imposed federal penalties on states if they refuse to expand their Medicaid programs.)

The New York Times has a good explanation of the decision, which was complicated -- and had Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. siding with the four more liberal members of the court in favor of the law, though he disagreed with their reasons:

The key provision that 26 states opposing the law had challenged – popularly known as the individual mandate – requires virtually all citizens to buy health insurance meeting minimum federal standards, or to pay a penalty if they refuse.

Many conservatives considered the mandate unconstitutional under the commerce clause, arguing that if the federal government could compel people to buy health insurance, it could compel them to buy almost anything -- even broccoli, the archetypal example debated during the oral arguments three months ago.

In a complex decision, the court found that Congress’ powers to regulate commerce did not justify the mandate. But it reasoned that the penalty, to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service starting in 2015, is a tax and is not unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Roberts, in the majority, said that the mandate was unconstitutional under the Constitution’s commerce clause. But that did not matter if the penalty that enforces it was constitutional on other grounds.

The court’s four liberals made it clear that they disagreed with the Chief Justice's view of the commerce clause, but joined him because the effect of his ruling was to let the law stand.

If you were watching CNN or Fox News this morning, and heard that the law had been struck down by the court, you weren't imagining things. In their rush to get the news, both outlets got it wrong, then corrected themselves a few minutes later.

CBC News in Canada has screenshots of the errors, which are already being compared to the Chicago Tribune's infamously wrong 1948 "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline.

The sharp analysts over at SCOTUS Blog are currently running a liveblog about the decision, and reactions to it from around the nation. Already, they report, the stock market is showing some dramatic action: Hospital stocks are on the rise, and insurer stocks are dropping.