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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Supreme Court Rules On Obamacare; Obama Health Care Law Upheld
Aired June 28, 2012 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And this is a live picture of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. where an historic announcement is only a few moments away. The justices will rule on the controversial health care reform law. What they decide will impact virtually every American.
Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Our special coverage continues right now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
It's almost impossible to overstate just how important the commonly known phrase Obamacare really is. It's a signature achievement of President Obama's administration.
Today's ruling could impact his legacy, could impact his re- election. But most importantly, it will have a direct effect on hundreds of millions of Americans all across the country.
As a result, we've mobilized CNN's vast resources for this hour's dramatic announcement. Our crews are covering every angle from coast to coast to break it down for you.
Let's go to CNN's John King, first of all. He's right outside the Supreme Court, watching all of this unfold. It could be a complex decision, not necessarily black and white, whether it's constitutional or unconstitutional.
There are variations of this decision potentially in the works -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Wolf. You can hear some of the protesters waiting in on this decision. The court will gavel into session as we speak.
Remarkable in this internet age, cable age, Twitter age, no cameras allowed inside the Supreme Court, but our Jeffrey Toobin is in there. Kate Bolduan is at the court.
So we will get a decision momentarily, but you're right. This could be a very complicated situation right now. Kate Bolduan is right outside the court. Let's go to her right now for some breaking news from the court -- Kate.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. As we await the health care ruling, we do have some news on another case that we have been watching very closely. This is the case of the Stolen Valor Act. This was a 2006 federal law making it a crime to lie about military honors, lie about military service.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the man who has been -- who challenged this law, his name is Xavier Alvarez. He lied about his military service saying he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for combat bravery in this nation as he was running for a local office in California.
He admits he lied, but he said his lie is protected by the first amendment. The justices ruling 6-3 with Justice Kennedy is reading part of the decision right now. They ruled in his favor, throwing out this prosecution, saying his rights were protected under the first amendment.
So that's just one of the cases. There could be one more before we get to the big ruling that we are all waiting for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kate, thanks very much. All right, one down, another relatively minor decision to go and then we will get the big decision on the fate of health care reform in the United States.
Jessica Yellin is over at the White House. The president will be getting ready to address the nation shortly after we know what this decision is. Is that right, Jessica?
YELLIN: Wolf, in fact, we don't know when the president will be addressing the nation. We know it will be sometime today. But the exact timing of that has not been announced.
What I do know is the president is scheduled to be in the oval office receiving his presidential daily brief when this decision comes down. He should be there now, with the vice president.
He's usually accompanied by the chief of staff and the heads of his national security team. So those would be the people with him when he learns of this decision, just like the rest of us do.
Wolf, you know, this health care rule was 18 months in the making. The president devoted an enormous amount of his own political capital to this health care policy.
It is not just the health care of the nation, the role of government in American's lives, but also, of course, the president's own political future to some extent at stake today.
And the White House is prepared for many different outcomes. They have tried to compute all sorts of different possible ways the Supreme Court could rule, and still what we know, that once this decision comes down.
They'll have to review the decision like the rest of us, process it before the president comes out to give remarks. But it will be at some point later today, Wolf, a momentous day, not just this health care ruling, but also his attorney general under fire today.
So a sign for the president that he is not in control of his own politics here in Washington, oddly, at this crucial moment for him in the election -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly would be momentous for the president, indeed for the nation, depending on what these justices do. Jessica, we'll get back to you.
Gloria Borger is watching all of this unfold. Gloria, as we see, as we await this moment, and you know, it's exciting to see history unfold.
We don't know whether the justices will rule that the Affordable Care Act as it's officially called will be constitutional or unconstitutional or some sort of mixed decision, if you will.
But I keep saying the stakes are enormous for the country as a whole. Forget about the politics for now.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's enormous for the country because at the heart of this issue is whether this health care mandate is constitutional or unconstitutional.
And that is an insurance pool, which would mean everybody would have to pay into it. If you lose that, in any way, shape or form, what the insurance companies are saying, and this is what people care about.
The insurance companies are saying, we cannot keep all of these provisions in because your insurance costs would skyrocket. So then the question becomes, what do you do to make sure that doesn't happen?
And how do you control health care costs in this country, which are 18 percent of the gross national product. So we could end up, Wolf, going back to square one.
As Jessica said, this has been almost two years in the making. All of it's supposed to take effect in 2014. So it could create some kind of chaos for people as they try and have some kind of certainty about their health care plan.
BLITZER: I want to bring John King into this conversation as well, as we await momentarily, John, we will know the fate of health care, the health care reform law in the United States.
There is one wild card. I think a lot of the experts have suggested it's remote. But John, there is one wild card that these nine justices could decide. That would in effect to punt, to delay any final decision until after 2014, when the mandate, the mandate is supposed to go into effect. It's unlikely they will do so. But explain what that would mean.
KING: Well, we saw a bit of that in the Arizona immigration decision the other day, where they threw out three contested provisions and then one and perhaps the most controversial provision.
The so-called show me your papers provision. Essentially what the court said is, we don't know whether this could be implemented in a constitutional way.
We don't know until you try it, whether this can be done in a way that does not violate the civil rights of the people who in the Arizona immigration case asked for their immigration documentation when pulled over --
BLITZER: All right, John, hold on a second. Kate Bolduan has got some information. Kate, go ahead. Tell us what's going on.
BOLDUAN: This is our first reading. We're still going through the opinion, but I want to bring in the breaking news that according to producer, the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of the commerce clause.
So it appears as if the Supreme Court justices have struck down the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the health care legislation. I'm going to hop back on this phone to try to get more information and bring it to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow, that's a dramatic moment, if in fact the Supreme Court has ruled the individual mandate is in fact unconstitutional. That would be history unfolding right now.
We're going to get a lot more information. This is just the initial headline that we're getting from inside the Supreme Court to our own Kate Bolduan.
John King is outside the Supreme Court watching all of this unfold. What a setback, John, this would be for the president, for the Democrats, those who supported this health care law.
If they ruled that the individual mandate is in fact unconstitutional, then it raises questions about any of this health care reform law.
KING: Wolf, the individual mandate is the centerpiece of the policy, meaning the mandate requiring most Americans to purchase insurance is where the money comes from.
It's how you expand access. The administration said it could possibly try to keep parts of the law viable. But it is the money, most of the money comes through that individual mandate, requiring people to purchase health insurance. The court is striking down that mandate is a dramatic blow to the policy and to the president politically.
That has been the defining and was the defining debate in Congress. Does the federal government have the right to tell individual Americans, you must buy this?
Does the federal government have the right to tell the 50 states, you must set up a system with these insurance pools, with these co-ops to implement the Affordable Care Act?
So the justices have just gutted, Wolf, the centerpiece decision of the Obama health care law. The question now is, what else do they say in this ruling and can parts of the law be salvaged.
The administration has been stressing this morning, there are other popular provisions that even if the mandate is struck down, they believe it will be left in place by the court.
But without a doubt, the individual mandate, which has been the polarizing centerpiece of the policy debate over health care, the justices throwing that out is a direct blow to the president of the United States, a direct blow to his Democratic Party. And this is a victory, if you will --
BLITZER: All right, hold --
KING: Go ahead.
BLITZER: Hold on for a second, John. I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, into this. If the individual mandate, Sanjay, is not a valid exercise of the commerce clause, if in fact it's unconstitutional, as John King is saying, that's supposed to pay for health insurance for a lot of poorer Americans.
Because healthier, younger Americans would be forced to purchase health insurance and the revenue that would come in would help provide insurance to millions of others. Give us your initial reaction to this breaking news.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's obviously very important. The second most important piece of information I want to hear now is what happens to these, quote, "non- discriminatory" clauses against patients who have chronic illness.
Wolf, you know, the people who are paying the most attention to this right now are people who have some sort of illness and had been unable to health care insurance, or the health care insurance has been too expensive for them.
Again, as you just point out, the way they were going to be able to get health care insurance was the new people coming into the system under the mandate were going to help pay for them. That money is no longer there.
So now we want to hear from the Supreme Court, are they also getting rid of these non-discriminatory clauses as well. Wolf, you know, regardless of what they do at this point, I think the point that John King was making is from a pragmatic standpoint.
From a standpoint of a doc like me who works in a public hospital, you know, if you can't pay for this, I don't know how it works, even if the law is on the books.
So this is a -- it's a very big deal here, Wolf, this particular of the 450 provisions, this one obviously was the centerpiece on which so many of those other ones were riding.
BLITZER: Yes, if in fact that's the final word on the individual mandate. It could be a little bit more complicated. John King, you're getting some more information as well. We're watching all of this unfold. We're still trying to dissect what this additional report we're getting from inside the Supreme Court means.
KING: Wolf, that is the key point in the details. If they rule the mandate part unconstitutional, if the federal government has that authority, what about the other provisions?
Can it stand as a taxing provision so we'll get -- the headline from the court tells us one thing, but we have to get deeper into the decision to find out whether they let all or part. There are severability clauses at stake.
So until we can read every bit, until we get access to every piece of the decision, it is hard to say the impact. Certainly, if the court has struck down the individual mandate, they take out the giant, the organizing piece, if you will, of the Obama health care law.
But how the justices word their decision is critical as to whether any or all of the part of the law stands going forward.
BLITZER: Yes. As we say, there's some confusion out there, conflicting reports coming from inside the Supreme Court. Let's hold off on drawing any final conclusions on what exactly these -- the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have decided.
Initial suggestion that perhaps the mandate, the individual mandate not valid exercise of the commerce clause of the constitution, but now there are now there are other reports saying perhaps the tax would be imposed on those who refuse to purchase health insurance, but could get -- we're now getting more information.
I just want to update our viewers. The Chief Justice John Roberts, saying potentially, potentially the individual mandate could be upheld as a tax, but we're getting some conflicting information on what leads up to that.
So let's take a deep breath and let's see what the justices actually decide. It could be a little bit more complicated than initially thought.
All of this unfolding, if you're watching Twitter, you can get some of the confusion as well because we're getting widely different assessments of what the United States Supreme Court has decided.
So let's wait and see. We have our producer, Bill Mears, inside. Kate Bolduan is getting that information directly from Bill Mears. So, we'll see what is happening, but this is a momentous occasion.
John King is watching all of this unfold as well. John, what else are you picking up?
KING: Wolf, just waiting for more of the decision.
BLITZER: Hold on, John. Kate Bolduan is getting some more information. Kate, what are you learning?
BOLDUAN: Well, I've got to tell you. This is a very confusing, very large opinion. But I want to make sure we are very clear on the second read. I'll read you the exact line.
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court with respect to part 3, that is the individual mandate, concluding that the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress' power under the taxing clause.
What we are reading here is that the individual mandate may be upheld under a narrow reading of the constitution, not under the commerce clause. We're talking about the taxing clause, Wolf, very important distinction here.
As you can see this is very thick and we're reading through it. It's very legally dense. I'm going right back to it to find out about the rest of it.
BLITZER: Yes, because there were conflicting assessments from the Obama administration whether in fact this is a tax or not a tax. The penalty that would be imposed on those who have the ability to buy health insurance would be required to buy health insurance, but still decided not to do so, whether or not that would be a tax or not a tax.
So you just heard Kate say that the Chief Justice John Roberts, saying that yes, under the tax provisions, under the tax writing provisions of Congress, and the president would sign it into law, that this would be allowed.
That was not necessarily the argument that was made by the Obama administration. They didn't necessarily say it was a tax, they thought it was a commerce clause provision, which is different.
John King is joining us right now. Excuse me, Kate Bolduan is getting some more details. What else are you learning, Kate?
BOLDUAN: As we're reading through this again. We are reading now that the entire law has been upheld, Wolf. We are reading through this to see how the count -- how the vote count went within the justices.
Because it looks like there are a lot of different concurring and maybe even pluralities here. But from what we are reading here, it looks like the entire health care law including the individual mandate has been upheld.
BLITZER: And that explains why the chief justice initially, in one of the lines that we reported, said that the individual mandate might not be appropriate with the commerce clause of the constitution.
But he does say it is appropriate, it is being upheld as part of the tax writing ability of the Congress to go forward and impose taxes. If in fact that is the justification, then it's a huge, huge victory for President Obama.
And for the Democrats who worked very, very hard to enact the health care reform law. What the critics have often called Obama care. But if the chief justice says, and he is the decider obviously, if Chief Justice John Roberts says the Affordable Care Act is in fact constitutional.
That the individual mandate is constitutional provided in accordance with the tax writing ability of the U.S. Congress, then obviously a big, big victory for the Obama administration, and President Obama himself.
Some of the confusion, I want to bring in John King, who's outside the Supreme Court as well, the initial confusion, John, I think was the result of John Roberts saying that the individual mandate was not consistent with the commerce clause, which is what the Obama administration had argued before the Supreme Court.
So initially, the sense was that maybe the whole thing was going to be thrown out. But now we see that he has come forward and says it is consistent with the tax writing clauses of the constitution.
As a result Obamacare is now likely to be upheld in full, according to this latest information we're getting from inside the Supreme Court. Is that your reading of what we're getting, John?
KING: Wolf, I have the decision in my hand and I'm reading through it as we speak, and that is exactly right. There are parts where the chief justice writes the majority decision. This will be a landmark day for the Roberts court as we call it.
In this decision, there are parts in which you mentioned the commerce clause, where the chief justice writes it is the opinion of the court, the divided opinion of the court that congress has no authority under that provision, the commerce provision to tell states they must do this.
But he goes on to say that Congress has broad powers to enact taxes and fees and essentially powers to tell the states what they must do are quite broad. So in that context, it is upheld.
You read through this decision and you have the sense from the justices more conservative, Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, for example, and Justice Scalia, all dissenting in this decision.
And Justice Ginsberg writing parts of it, it's a several different decisions within one if you will, but in the end what they are saying, with John Roberts, the chief justice, appointed by George W. Bush, of course, saying that this law now stands.
And that's what will go forward. Wolf, you're seeing the reaction outside of the court. It's a very complicated decision. But the bottom line is by a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court says it stands.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a fascinating moment in Supreme Court history, with the implications, not only politically, but much more importantly for Americans out there.
Enormous, the Supreme Court ruling that the health care reform law is in fact constitutional, not necessarily based on the commerce clause of the constitution, but on the tax writing provisions, that the constitution gives the U.S. Congress and the president of the United States.
Let's get some immediate analysis from John Bash. He was a clerk For Supreme Court Justice Scalia. He's joining us from Pittsburgh right now.
It's a little complex, but the bottom line, John, seems to be that Obamacare, as it's called, is in fact constitutional.
JOHN BASH, FORMER CLERK FOR JUSTICE SCALIA: That's what I'm seeing, too, Wolf.
BLITZER: Hold on, John. Kate Bolduan is getting more information from inside the Supreme Court. Kate, what are you learning?
BOLDUAN: Hi there, Wolf. I want to read you a key quote in the majority opinion. This majority opinion is being written by and read by the chief justice himself.
He says here, at the end of the opinion, the framers created a federal government of limited powers and assigned to this court of enforcing these limits.
The court does so today that the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the constitution that judgment is reserved to the people.
He goes on to say the judgment of the Court of Appeals, the 11th circuit, which is where this case came from. He says it's affirmed in part and reversed in part and that is because they have upheld the constitutionality of the health care reform law -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, the chief justice writing the opinion. He's with the majority saying that Obamacare, as it's called, is in fact constitutional. That's your understanding, Kate, is that right?
BOLDUAN: That is our understanding, Wolf. Obviously, there has been a lot of confusion early on. This is very dense. As we read early on, they said the individual mandate could not be upheld under one clause, the commerce clause.
But could be upheld and seen as constitutional under the taxing clause. So I think you and our viewers can understand where there could be quite a bit of confusion on this, this morning -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, let's try to clarify a little bit it. I want to bring back John Bash who was a clerk for Justice Scalia. Is this your understanding, John?
That the individual mandate may not apply to the commerce clause, which is what the Obama administration justified it being used for, but it is applicable, does certainly apply as far as the tax writing provisions of the constitution, and as a result the entire law is constitutional?
BASH: Yes, Wolf, that's how I understand the opinion. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but just checking out CNN and Scotusblog, it looks like that's what the court held.
Now, it's really interesting, and surprising, because although the parties made the argument about the taxing power, the government justified the law under the taxing power.
That was a comparatively small part of both the briefing and the oral argument. So you didn't hear a lot of people in the run-up to this case saying, what might happen is they say it's not OK under the commerce power but it is okay as a tax.
Just one additional point, this has real implications, not just for this law, which is upheld in full, apparently, but going forward.
What it means is that Congress could not impose criminal penalties for failure to comply with the mandate. The most they can do is impose a tax assessment for those who do not purchase health insurance or any party.
So from a legal perspective, it is in some sense a win for those who want a commerce power that is not all encompassing. Evidently, the court said you could not force people under the commerce power, for example under threat of criminal sanction, to purchase a product, or at least to purchase health insurance.
BLITZER: Your understanding, John, and I believe I'm right when I say this, the Obama administration, they may have flipped on this, but they never really argued, at least publicly during the debate leading up to the health care reform law that this was a tax, the penalty on the mandate. They always said that it wasn't necessarily a new tax. Is that your understanding?
BASH: It is, Wolf. You know, one of the early versions of the health care law had a provision that called it a tax. I can't remember if that was in the House or the Senate, but that was discarded along the way.
And of course, President Obama made a pledge that he was not going to raise taxes on middle class Americans. But if this is a tax, at least constitutionally speaking, he in a sense has raised taxes on middle class Americans, at least those who elect not to purchase health insurance.
BLITZER: But it will be seen as a tax. Certainly the Supreme Court justices, the majority in this particular decision, view it as a tax. The penalty, if you will. And as a result, they have upheld Obama care.
Kate Bolduan is getting more information from inside. What else are you learning, Kate? BOLDUAN: Wolf, I'm finally able to take a look here and to look how the votes broke down on this very important ruling. We see here that the Chief Justice John Roberts, he himself was the swing vote, because joined in the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ginsberg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the four more liberal leaning justices on this court for this ruling. On the dissent would be the four on the other side, Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito, very, very interesting, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, so Justice Kennedy was not the decider after all.
BLITZER: He went with the minority. It was the chief justice, Justice Roberts, the chief justice of the United States who was the decider going with the more liberal justices, deciding in this 5-4 historic decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare as it's called.
Gloria Borger is here. She's been reading through this decision. What else are you picking up, Gloria?
BORGER: What's so interesting to me, Wolf, is that politically, of course, you never heard the Obama administration brag about the penalties on the mandate as a tax because politically, nobody wants to talk about a tax.
But when you look at the argument that their attorney made, they, the federal government argued that the individual mandates, quote, "practical operation" is as a tax, because the financial penalty for failure to comply with the mandate is administered through the tax code.
And that was the argument they made to the court. We're all looking at the commerce clause, of course. But this is about -- this has turned out to be about taxing power. So politically nobody said this was a tax, but legally, this was the argument --
BLITZER: The IRS would be providing the penalties that were required to purchase health insurance who didn't after 2014. And as a result, the IRS would have to hire a lot more people to implement this.
BLITZER: It was seen by the justices as a tax.
BORGER: So it's going to be administered through the tax code. They say it reasonably relates to the raising of some amount of federal revenue. Therefore, it is a tax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wolf, don't forget, during the arguments, the justices were grappling with how do you uphold essentially the guts of the law if you strike down the individual mandate. It wouldn't be surprising that they're saying there's a way to in essence keep the commerce clause as is, striking it down, but still not gut the law.
I wouldn't be surprised if Roberts recognized the long-term implications of striking down the health care law with so many people already who have pre-existing conditions on their insurance. It's interesting how the court sort of molded this decision.
BORGER: Is it a tax or civil regulatory penalty, which is what the other side argued. The court, Justice Roberts said --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're in the White House, you're doing the happy dance even if they called it tax.
BLITZER: The bottom line is that the Obama health care reform law has been upheld. Upheld thanks to the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts.
Kate Bolduan is outside the Supreme Court. What else are you picking up, Kate?
Excuse me, Kate's still going through the decision. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is joining us. Sanjay, this is a huge, huge win for the Obama administration because the law as it currently exists will continue.
GUPTA: Yes. And I should point out from my sources inside the White House, they're telling me the president will come out and speak within the next couple of hours about this as well, Wolf. So we'll be looking out for that.
With regard to patients, you know, a lot of this is being implemented by the year 2014. So just quickly, we've been talking about this all along, Wolf. But it's worth pointing out some of the things that will now be more assured in 2014.
Adults and children can no longer be discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions, Wolf. As a doctor, I hear about this all the time. People simply not being able to purchase health insurance because the costs are prohibitively too high, or it's not offered to them at all.
Their insurance companies will say we will not insure these people at any cost. That will go away. Obviously, the mandate, which we've been talking about, will help offset those costs.
I should also point out there are other things, Wolf, by the year 2015, for doctors, there's a specific provision about how doctors will be reimbursed based on the value of the patient's care overall as opposed to specific testing, specific medications being dispensed.
It's really going to change a lot of things within the whole medical establishment over the next few years. Not immediately, but over the next few years.
But again, for patients specifically, the ones who have been paying the most attention to this over the last year, people who have chronic illness and just been unable to get health care insurance, that's going to change by the year 2014, for adults, kids, that's already happened, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, as we're watching all of this, Sanjay, a lot of people are nervous how this is going to affect them. I think it's fair to say that right now, what has started to be implemented, all the provisions of the health care reform law.
They will continue to be implemented, fully implemented in 2014. There will be no change unless Congress were to go forward and do what the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, says he would do on day one of his administration, if he were elected.
He would introduce legislation to repeal what's called Obamacare. Then all bets would be off, depending on what the House and Senate were to do.
But as of now, the Obama health care reform law will be fully implemented, thanks to this 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sanjay, quick question to you, as somebody who has watch the Supreme Court and knows this health care reform law very, very well.
I was pretty surprised that Justice Roberts, the chief justice was the decider in this 5-4 decision, not Justice Anthony Kennedy.
GUPTA: Yes, for very specific reasons as well, with regard to exactly what the mandate meant, how it would be enforced, would it be considered a tax or penalty.
Some of this is quite arcane for me, and I'm sure for a lot of people watching. But I think, you know, the way I understood it is that by the year 2016, if you could afford to buy health care insurance and you did not, you would be penalized, $695 or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever those numbers was greater.
And so it wasn't -- you wouldn't be criminalized if people wouldn't go to jail over that, but there would be a penalty involved. So I'm not -- I have read the entire decision yet with how Dr. Roberts - argued this specifically, but it seemed to hinge on that point, was that a tax, was that a penalty and how did that all fit into the Constitution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, fascinating.
And just to be precise, 5-4 decision, Sanjay, the Chief Justice siding with the majority, writing the opinion. The other liberal justices, I should say: Justice Breyer, Justice Ginsberg, Justice Kagan, Justice Sotomayor siding with the Chief Justice. The dissenters: Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito, Justice Thomas.
John King is outside the Supreme Court. John, you've actually been going through this document, reading the decision.
KING: And it's a fascinating decision. If you read it, Wolf, there are always questions, people always say can you find in the Constitution the heritage, can you connect the dots back to the founding fathers for any decision issued by the Supreme Court.
And that's what the Chief Justice tried to do in his decision. One of the key arguments here was can you penalize somebody, can you tax somebody, can you make them do something they don't want to do, meaning can you make them go out and tell them you must buy insurance even if they don't want to do it.
And the Chief Justice makes this, here's what he says in his decision. "The court today holds that our Constitution protects us" -- going to turn the page here, "from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause, so long as we abstain from the regulated activity." Meaning if you don't -- insurance is regulated. If you don't buy it, under the Commerce Clause, the government can't force you, or penalize you.
But then he goes on to say, "But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes." Then he quotes, "Going back in time from a letter from Benjamin Franklin written in 1789. This is the famous statement, "Our new Constitution is now established but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
So the Chief Justice, John Roberts saying that and Wolf I want to read one more quick piece from the end here. This is the -- this right here. "The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax because the Constitution permits such a tax. It is not our role to forbid it or to pass upon it's wisdom for fairness."
So the Justice not -- the Chief Justice in his decision not necessarily saying he agrees with the health care law, but he is saying that he has found reason and his colleagues have found reason four of them under the Constitution to allow it to stand.
A big victory for the President of the United States.
Let's go now to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The President will be speaking in a few hours here from the White House, addressing what is a victory here for the President. And he will no doubt say for the American people, because the President pushed for health care reform against, at the end, the judgment not just some of the -- some of his critics, but even some of his own advisors, who said at the very end that they thought it couldn't get done.
There was a lot of -- I'll tell you, expectation here or that this very result might come to pass. They believed, in the White House that this whole law was constitutional. We have reported that. They were prepared for any outcome.
But I've talked to a number of legal scholars who predicted this very result, that the mandate would be deemed itself not legal under the Commerce Clause, not constitutional, but that the justices would say it could stand as a tax, which is something that might have made more sense to do, but just couldn't pass political muster in Congress.
You know they might have pushed for that to begin with, but it just didn't make sense politically.
So I don't think this comes as a total surprise for the folks in the building behind me, that's my guess. No one's told me that. But this will be a real victory for the White House. Expect the President to tout other elements of the bill, measures that they know and have tested that are popular they believe with voters, such as -- people under 26 getting health care on their parents' insurance, pre-existing conditions standing, et cetera.
I can also tell you, though, John, that other outside groups, including a leading conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, planning to go up with $9 million worth of ads tomorrow in battleground states around the nation, attacking the President's health care bill and pushing this issue. Because they believe this is a time when the nation's maximum attention is placed on this bill, and they want to make as much political hay out of it as possible. They know that this is still a divisive issue.
So a victory for the President, but still a political fight.
KING: Still a political fight. Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, we'll stay in touch as we wait to hear from the President.
We're also waiting to hear from his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. I want to bring in our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. And Candy, we have this decision now which says the policy stands, the politics will continue. And I think it's a great irony.
Then Senator Barack Obama voted against the confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. John Roberts, the Chief Justice, today writing the majority decision that upholds the signature achievement of now President Obama's first term.
Candy where do you see -- so -- so Candy, what happens from here in terms of the political debate? We know Governor Romney will say you need to elect me to repeal this. What else?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly what Republicans still have left is their rallying cry. You will likely see the Republicans on the House side where they hold the majority, go through this legislation piece by piece, to vote to repeal it.
But they're not going to get their folks in the Senate to do that. It's of course, dominated by Democrats. So it remains an issue. It's no longer an issue in the Supreme Court at least on any basis that has been taken to it. So it now actually becomes solely a campaign issue.
The President now still has his signature piece of legislation. He continues to have to sell it, because as we know from some of the polls, the majority of people don't like it, whether they think it wasn't enough or was too much. They equal about 51 percent of the population.
So it's still a selling job for the President. But it's made much easier by the Supreme Court decision because this is clearly a victory for President Obama. And he clearly can go out and ride on this. So I would not be surprised if we saw over time a little bit of a boost for how people feel about the health care law now that it's no longer in the court system.
And where it's getting a lot of positive coverage today about the many things that this health care law has done. So he may be able to ride this and perhaps gather some more popularity for this particular bill.
So again, out of the courts and onto the campaign trail, and to a certain extent obviously on to the House side -- John.
KING: On to the campaign trail, that's a good way to put it. Candy Crowley, will be with us throughout our special coverage.
Gloria Browne-Marshall, is a constitutional law professor she joins us from New York.
Professor, let me put the question to you this way. When the court says under the Commerce Clause this could not stand, but as a tax, it can. Explain to our viewers who might not understand the different issue there within the Constitution how the court has, forgive me for using this term, it's not a legal term, split the hairs.
GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, PROFESSOR, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Well, let's look at it this way. The Commerce Clause is under Article 1 of the Constitution. And under that Commerce Clause, the Congress has the power and authority to regulate commerce between the different states.
And so in this particular instance, within that same Article 1, we have the tax power. And all expanded tax powers as well under legislation that's been enacted since the Constitution was drafted. And so in trying to split the hairs, as you say, is looking at -- is Congress actually regulating business. Is that -- is Congress under the -- this ACA, is it regulating how the insurance business is going to be run.
Or on the other hand, is the fact that the penalty that one must pay if they decide not to get the mandated health care, is that penalty that has to be paid through their tax forms, an actual tax that's raising revenue for the government.
So it is splitting hairs, but there are two different provisions of the Constitution that are controlling in this area. KING: What did we learn about the Chief Justice of the United States today? Justice Kennedy is often viewed as the swing vote. He was a dissenter here. He thinks the law is unconstitutional. It is Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee, again, as I just noted, the current President of the United States voted against his confirmation when he was in the Senate. Yet it is this Republican Chief Justice who upholds the signature initiative of the President. What have we learned about the Chief Justice and the Roberts court today?
BROWNE-MARSHALL: I believe that the Chief Justice, and the court itself in many ways, is trying to be more conciliatory. And I say this because the last few opinions have shown that they have not cut across the board in finding prohibitions. The immigration case, it wasn't totally a prohibition against what Arizona was doing, it was a wait-and-see.
And even with the Miller case, with -- involving the 14-year-old who had been sentenced to life without possibility of parole, Justice Kagan delivered the opinion in that particular case. And even then they didn't close the door completely to the states using life without possibility of parole, it allowed mitigating circumstances to intervene. So it wasn't across the board.
I think Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts needs to make sure the other justices understand, they have to reach across. And they have to understand the conciliatory tone is important not just for the court but for the American people.
We've all seen in the last week or so, that the polls have shown the American people are dissatisfied with the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court and not just conservatives and not just liberals. But there has been a 44 percent approval rating, one of the lowest approval ratings for the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 25 years.
And many people believe that it is personal, or political motivations that are ruling in the court's decisions and not objective legal analysis.
I think the Chief Justice has to see beyond politics, and even though he is conservative, he has to understand -- and I think this opinion shows he does understand -- the American people are looking at the court, they know it's their branch of government creating the law of the land and they want to see something that they understand and see a more conciliatory court.
KING: Gloria Browne-Marshall is a constitutional law expert, appreciate your insight. Stay with us for our continuing coverage.
And Wolf, again, a 5-4 decision, the Chief Justice of the United States siding with four more liberal members of the United States court. And at the White House they'll be celebrating today. The policy upheld.
As you know, it will remain as a campaign issue from here and 132 days until the American people decide who their next president will be.
BLITZER: You know, it's fascinating, John, because we just checked. Back in 2009, when they were debating the tax provisions of the health care reform law, and you all remember, the President of the United States, President Obama gave an interview to ABC News, to George Stephanopoulos at the time, and repeatedly -- repeatedly in that interview, he denied that there was any tax increase in the health care reform legislation. At one point he's saying, you've got to take responsibility to get health insurance. But this is absolutely not a tax increase.
At another point he says, my critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. He denied this was a tax increase.
But ironically, John, now we see from the Supreme Court, including the Chief Justice, John Roberts that this is in effect a tax increase. As a result, the Obama health care reform law stands completely constitutional at this point. Now John, I think you'll agree, that's a fascinating twist as we've interpreted it right now.
KING: That's a great irony. The court saying the law is upheld because it is exactly what the President said it was not, in terms of a tax. Wolf, you know -- you know that will be the political argument going forward from Governor Romney and conservatives who oppose this law. They will say it is proof the President is a big taxer, a big spender.
That will be their argument going forward. But they will make that argument knowing that the Chief Justice and four of his colleagues by a 5-4 ruling have left the Affordable Care Act intact. So, a victory for the President on the policy front. We'll watch the political debate as we go forward.
BLITZER: And that political debate is going to be incredible over the next four months or so until November.
John stand by.
Ted Rowlands is in Chicago. He's over at the University of Illinois, Chicago Hospital right now, getting reaction. Ted, what are folks over there saying?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, this is a bit of a seesaw. So at one point it looked like the mandate was shot down and now it's back up.
We watched the decision come down, watching CNN's coverage with Dr. Saul Weiner from the University of Illinois, Chicago. You say you're very, very pleased. In fact, you were saying, "Can I show my excitement on camera?" And I said "Absolutely."
Why are you so excited and pleased?
DR. SAUL WEINER, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, CHICAGO HOSPITAL: Well, first of all I'm excited as a primary care physician. This is a law that has been expanding coverage for people who are uninsured. It's been focusing on the primary care system, with incentives to improve access to primary care, to assure appropriate reimbursement for primary care physicians. And also for the system in which they work. So I'm definitely pleased as a primary care physician
I'm also pleased as an educator. The fact that the law is going to essentially move forward as planned, means that there will be increased demand for health care, as pent-up demand continues to --
ROWLANDS: That increased demand could cause increased problems as well. And a lot of people think this could be a financial detriment to the country at large.
WEINER: Yes. I think the law has tried to address that by trying to essentially incentivize quality. To build in provisions, which we're going to see more and more of over the next few years, that reward hospitals and doctors for providing cost effective care, for bundling services.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands, I need to interrupt right now. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader is on the House floor. I want to listen in to hear what he's saying.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: -- and we'll do that working together. But today millions of Americans are already seeing the benefits of the law that we've passed. Seniors are saving money on their prescriptions and checkups. Children can no longer be denied insurance because they have a pre-existing condition, a protection that will soon extend to every American.
No longer will American families be a heart attack or car accident away from bankruptcy. Mr. President I just -- every Thursday, I have a welcome to Washington. Today they had a group of people from Nevada who have, or have relatives that have, cystic fibrosis. It's been so hard for these young people to get insurance. It's not going to be that way anymore Mr. President.
No longer will Americans live in fear of losing their health insurance because they lose a job. No longer will tens of millions of Americans rely on emergency room care, or go without care entirely because they have no insurance at all. Soon virtually every man, woman and child in America will have access to health insurance they can afford. And the vital care they need.
Passing the Affordable Care Act was the greatest single step in generations for ensuring access to affordable, quality health care for every person in America, regardless of where they live, how much money they make.
Mr. President, unfortunately Republicans in Congress continue to target the rights and benefits guaranteed under this law and would like to give the power back to the insurance companies, the power of life and death back to the insurance companies. But our Supreme Court has spoken. The matter is settled.
No one thinks this law is perfect. The presiding officer doesn't, I don't. But Democrats have proven we're willing to work with Republicans to improve one of the problems that exists in this law or in fact, any other law.
(END LIVE FEED)
BLITZER: All right. There he is, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid giving his very, very happy reaction to this decision by the United States Supreme Court. A 5-4 decision authorizing the continuation of the Obama health care reform law, saying it is constitutional.
Some of the initial confusion may have resulted from this aspect of John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States' opinion. Let me read it to our viewers because it explains some of the initial confusion that we had.
"The Affordable Care Act," John Roberts writes, "is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part. The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress' 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," and this is key right now, "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' power to tax."
As a result, the Chief Justice, and the four others, the majority opinion in this 5-4 decision, they have ruled that the Obama health care reform law is in fact constitutional based on the authority that Congress has to impose a tax. Not necessarily on the Commerce Clause -- that would have been unconstitutional.
John King is watching all of this unfold. So that explains the initial confusion of why there was this sense that maybe the mandate was not constitutional. John Roberts saying it wasn't constitutional based on the Commerce Clause, which is what the Obama administration had argued. It is constitutional based on the fact that the IRS is going to implement penalties, and that is being construed as a tax, totally constitutional from the perspective of the majority opinion in this indication -- John.
KING: And I found it interesting. That footnote I read earlier Wolf, quoting from a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote, way back in the 1700s about the power to tax under the constitution. Chief Justice Roberts saying, under the Commerce Clause you can't do this, but yes, under the federal government's right to tax people, you can do this.
And that was one of the key questions. That's the question that gets to the core of the individual mandate. That was perhaps the most polarizing political debate.
But there also is another big issue before the court. One of the ways the administration wants to expand access to health care, especially for poor people, is through the Medicaid program. Several states challenged that, saying the federal government had no right to tell them that they must expand the Medicaid program.
Kate Bolduan is outside the court now to help us better understand. The court, Kate, decided to leave that in place but it's a carefully nuanced ruling.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, sorry, I have a lot of noise here.
KING: To the Medicaid question, and what the court decided --
KING: -- the court said that part of the law is upheld, but it also made some very careful guidance to the administration.
BOLDUAN: Very careful guidance is a good way of putting it. I mean this just shows how nuanced this ruling really is. What we see here as we're reading through this opinion is that the court is saying that the Medicaid provision, the expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, that it cannot penalize states. It cannot pull Medicaid funding from states if they are opting out.
That was a concern of the states who were challenging the Medicaid program because they say they were effectively being coerced to have to take part, to have to pay more into this program, pay more of the share of the cost.
I'll read you an important section of the majority opinion that kind of lays out that while they say that is not proper, there is an easy remedy.
Let me read this to you real quick. It says, "As to Medicaid expansion, that portion of the Affordable Care Act violates the constitution by threatening existing Medicaid funding. But the Chief Justice goes down to say, Congress may offer states grants and require the states to comply with accompanying traditions. But the states must have a genuine choice whether to accept the offer.
He goes on to say, just a little bit later, that there is an easy remedy here. The remedy for that constitutional violation is to preclude the federal government from imposing such a sanction. The remedy important to the entire act here. That remedy does not require striking down other portions of the Affordable Care Act.
So you can see the nuance here, John, the court basically saying while it may be violating the constitution, they give easy guidance in their view to the federal government of how to remedy that so it would not be a violation of the constitution. And they say very clearly that while they have issues with this part, it does not require striking down other portions of the Affordable Care Act -- John.
KING: So the Chief Justice essentially coming to the defense of the President of the United States, saying that under this new Medicaid program, if states take money from the federal government, they have to obey the rules, but the states have the right to opt out and not take that money.
KING: It's a very important -- very important part of the ruling for the Supreme Court. That's on the Medicaid provision.
Again the centerpiece of this upholding the individual mandate was saying that the federal government, therefore, the Congress has the right to tax individuals.
Christine Romans joins us now. Tell us exactly Christine, what are we talking about when you read through this decision and it's upheld largely on the power, the ability of the Congress to say, we can tax you?
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It means that for families and people who are uninsured, they're going to have to buy insurance. That's the whole point of getting all of these massive numbers of people into the insurance system. And that penalty, that tax as the Supreme Court has found, is something that people will have to start paying by the year 2014.
This is what you pay if you're uninsured to get into the system. A minimum penalty of $285 by the year 2014, or about 1 percent of income. This law caps how much of your income you can pay for this penalty. If you don't have -- if you haven't bought insurance by 2015, it goes up to $975 for a family, and for 2016, John, more than $2,000.
The idea here is you're going to penalize people, you're going to tax them for not getting into the system. On the other end of it, there are subsidies to help them pay and have affordable insurance, especially for people who are lower income and out of the system.
That's what this is all about. Those are the numbers. When you hear them talk about the tax, and how Congress can tax people so they have to buy insurance, those are the numbers that you're talking about there, those fines.
Many people in the polls had said they thought it was an overreach. They didn't want to be fined for not having insurance. But there are subsidies to help them pay for that insurance, and they can go on state exchanges then to buy a silver or bronze or a gold standard plan so they can have insurance coverage.
So all of these things that have been slowly going in place will continue to go into place, John. But remember, for many Americans, they haven't felt any changes yet, even though health care reform has been the law of the land for two years. A lot of these changes start phasing in, in 2014.
KING: And so Christine, someone who decides I'm not going to go out and buy health insurance is penalized through their income system. Is it done in the same way? And I guess the one model we have here -- this is very similar to how the Massachusetts plan works. If you don't buy, you get penalized. Governor Romney might not like this part of the conversation, but under the Massachusetts plan access has actually gone up to near universal access in the state of Massachusetts because of those controversial, but state of Massachusetts would say effective penalties.
ROMANS: And that's up to the IRS to figure out how they're going to collect those taxes. Whether it's going to be through the tax code, your tax return or some other way. And you know, I'll tell you, there are several different bills that have been introduced, where GOP members are trying to not allow the IRS to hire the people so they could actually do it. So there are ways legislatively, Republicans have tried to make sure that this part of it cannot be enacted.
That's another interesting twist in it as well, what Congress will do, now that the Supreme Court has ruled.
KING: You're watching the Supreme Court, the scene at the Supreme Court. But the court has now spoken. What happens next, just to the Congress. There's the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: And that has turned out to be just as disastrous as many of us predicted. Amid economic recession, a spiraling federal debt, and accelerated increases in government health spending. They proposed a bill that made all of those problems worse.
Americans were promised lower health care costs. They're going up. Americans were promised lower premiums. They are going up. Most Americans were promised their taxes wouldn't change, and they're going up. Seniors were promised Medicare would be protected. It was rated to pay for a new entitlement instead.
Americans were promised it would create jobs. The CBO predicts it will lead to nearly a million fewer jobs. Americans were promised they could keep their health plans if they liked it, yet millions have learned they can't.
And the President of the United States himself promised up and down that this bill was not a tax. This was one of the Democrats' top selling points. Because they knew it would never have passed if they said it was a tax. Well, the Supreme Court has spoken. This law is a tax.
The bill was sold to the American people on a deception. But it's not just the promises about this law weren't kept. It's that it made the problems it was meant to solve even worse. The supposed cure has proven to be worse than the disease.
So the pundits will talk a lot today about what they think today's ruling means and what it doesn't mean, but I can assure you this, Republicans won't let up whatsoever in our determination to repeal this terrible law and replace it with the kind of reforms that will truly address the problems it was meant to solve.
Now, look, we pass plenty of terrible laws around here that the court finds constitutional. Constitutionality was never an argument to keep this law in place. And it's certainly not one you'll hear from Republicans in congress. There's only one way to truly fix Obama care, only one way, and that's a full repeal -- a full repeal.
(END LIVE FEED)
KING: You're listening to the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell speaking on the Senate floor; the Senate controlled by Democrats. So as Republicans say they still plan to go ahead to try to repeal the Obama health care law. The House Republican leadership is already scheduled to vote for early July. But on the Senate side, Democrats control the chamber.
So, unless and until there's a big change in the next election, the Supreme Court decision will stand for the time being. The next election, 132 days away.
Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin. Jessica, a victory for the president on the policy front. How do they see. You hear Senator McConnell we're going to keep trying to repeal this policy.
The economy is issue number one in the election but how does the President and this political team think this decision fits in to the debate ahead.
YELLIN: Well, John, according to one administration official, the mood inside the White House is elation. I'm told, you know, they really had no idea how the court would rule. They just, like the rest of us, they really couldn't guess. When they saw it, there was just not simply relief, not simply celebration, but out-and-out elation.
told there's some surprise, as with all of us, that Justice Roberts ruled with the majority to effectively uphold the law. But Justice Kennedy, who's the usual swing vote, did not. And, you know, that's something that will no doubt be discussed an d parsed for days to come.
But for the White House, it is a big victory, because not only is it a political relief, and they know that the conservatives and the Republicans will fight this and try to repeal it, and they know they'll have a battle to go.
But this was also what they dedicated so much of the last three and a half years in office to doing. I mean these folks, they have worked on this day and night. And their blood, sweat and tears went into it.
So for many of these people, it's just a sense also of all that work was not for nothing. And then, of course, the political battle is yet to come. I mentioned earlier that one conservative group of Americans for Prosperity, pouring $8.2 million into ads that will begin tomorrow attacking Obamacare across the key battleground states -- John.
KING: Jessica Yellin, our chief White House correspondent. We continue to wait to hear directly from the President. Interesting reporting there on how we go forward.
Elation Jessica says is the word they're using to describe the mood at the White House. And Wolf, we'll watch this one go forward. one of the political questions, I guess, would be, does this now motivate conservatives to come out in force and help Governor Romney, a man they were skeptical of during the primaries for many conservatives because, of course,. He was the architect of the Massachusetts health care plan, which like the federal plan, has as its centerpiece an individual mandate.
BLITZER: There's no doubt that Mitt Romney says on day one of his presidency, if in fact he's elected in November, on January 20th, 2013, he says he would enact legislation to reject, to repeal the Obama health care reform law or the Affordable Care Act as it's called.
We want to bring back -- welcome back our viewers. This is the top of the hour.