In the majority opinion written by Roberts, the Supreme Court held that the mandate to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. But Roberts also found that it's constitutional under Congress's power to tax.
Since the decision, one also hears reports on cable TV news channels that "the mandate is a tax." But are these reports correct? Was the mandate upheld? Chief Justice Roberts examines the tax argument between PDF-pages 37 and 51 of the decision. On page 37, Roberts writes:
Because the Commerce Clause does not support the individual mandate, it is necessary to turn to the Government's second argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress's enumerated power to "lay and collect Taxes." ... Instead, the Government asks us to read the mandate not as ordering individuals to buy insurance, but rather as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product.
Roberts could be held responsible for some of our confusion. He would have been clearer had he substituted the above two iterations of "the mandate" with "the Act." But in the final paragraph (page 50-51) on the tax argument, Roberts becomes much clearer:
The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. Section 5000A would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command. The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. Section 5000A is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax.
Roberts removes all doubts that the mandate has been struck down in his summation on page 64:
The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part. The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause. 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.
It's unambiguous: Roberts gives us a choice, not a mandate.
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