By JESS BRAVIN, BRENT KENDALL and LOUISE RADNOFSKY
WASHINGTON—In a surprise conclusion to a constitutional showdown, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court's four liberals Thursday to uphold the linchpin of President Barack Obama's health plan, the individual mandate requiring citizens to carry insurance or pay a penalty.
By a 5-4 vote, the court held the mandate valid under Congress' constitutional authority "to lay and collect Taxes" to provide for "the general Welfare of the United States." The penalty for failing to carry insurance possesses "the essential feature of any tax," producing revenue for the government, Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
Although the Obama administration always asserted the penalty was valid under the federal taxing power, until Thursday no court had fully accepted that theory. Those that upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as the law is known, did so under Congress's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
The court did find one part of the law unconstitutional, saying its expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program threatened states' existing funding. The court ruled that the federal government can't put sanctions on states' existing Medicaid funding if the states decline to go along with the Medicaid expansion.
The ruling leaves the bulk of the law intact and means the fall campaign will present voters with a clear choice between Republicans who want to repeal the law and Democrats led by Mr. Obama, who spent much of the first 14 months of his term pushing his health overhaul through Congress.
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Explore the Health-Care RulingRead more about the Supreme Court's decision on the health-care law.
- The Surprise Vote: Chief Justice Roberts
- Court Upholds Mandate as Tax
- What Ruling Means for Consumers
- Health-Care Industry Gains Clarity
- 'Stolen Valor' Act Was Struck Down
- Ruling Won't Cure States' Ills
- Few Small Firms Take Advantage of Health-Law Benefits
- Wall Street Journal Report, click here to go to the Journal.