Three Big Questions

June 28, 2012 9:42 a.m.

Like everyone else, we’re still sifting through the opinions. There’s a lot here to digest, and I should caution while the top-line decision to uphold the mandate is still the big news of the day, how substantial that victory was for proponents of the ACA — and for progressive jurisprudence — is still not clear. There are wrinkles and permutations to these opinions that everyone with a stake in these matters will be dissecting in the hours and days and weeks to come.

Here are the big three so far:(1) What did this do to the Commerce Clause? All five conservative justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed that the individual mandate exceeded Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause. So all those who thought this case might be the first major retrenchment of Commerce Clause law since the New Deal might still be right.

(2) What does the Court’s ruling on the Medicaid part of the case mean going forward? The Court’s ruling on whether the federal government can withhold Medicaid matching funds from states that do not comply with the law’s changes to Medicaid is convoluted and not easy to follow. At least initially, it suggests an important new limit on the federal government in an area that was pretty settled law.

(3) Does the case change in any way what Republicans in Congress need to do legislatively to repeal Obamacare? As we reported earlier this week, repealing some pieces of Obamacare are easier than repealing other pieces. Does the majority’s ruling that the mandate was an exercise of the taxing power mean, for instance, that the mandate can be repealed under reconciliation rules with a simple majority vote? It’s not necessarily quite as simple as that, but that give you a sense of what might be at stake.

In legal terms, that list is from most to least important. In political terms, it’s probably the other way around. Our reporters are investigating the answers to each of these, and we’ll report back to you in the coming hours and days.

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