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UM Carey Law Faculty Comment on Supreme Court's Decision to Uphold Health Care Reform

The US Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling to uphold the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act under the Congress’s taxing power has prompted a range of comments  among faculty at UM Carey Law. 

Professors Mark Graber and Michael Greenberg explored the implications of the case on WYPR-FM's Midday with Dan Rodrick.

Other faculty members, below, focused on Robert’s analysis under the commerce clause decision, and on the question of which parts of the opinion are holding, and therefore binding for future cases, or dicta that merely provide insight into judicial thinking.


 “It’s the new “switch in time” (Chief) Justice Roberts!”

Professor Peter Quint, Jacob A. France Professor of Constitutional Law

“This shows that law has triumped over politics and that we still enjoy an independent judiciary.”

Robert Percival, JD, MA, Robert F. Stanton Professor of law, Director, Environmental Law Program and expert on constitutional law who has argued before the Supreme Court

 “I am unconvinced by the rationale for Robert’s decision to discuss the commerce clause issue (most natural reading of the statute).  My reading of TVA, Dulles, and a few other decisions suggests that where a court can sustain a statute on a particular reading, the court adopts that interpretation, noting only that alternative readings might raise difficult constitutional questions (see also Roberts’ opinion in the most recent Section 5 case).”

For more insight on the perspective of individual Justices, read Professor Graber's June 29 posting on Balkinization.

Mark Graber, JD, PhD, MA, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, Professor of Law and Government, constitutional historian and authority

“As Karl Llewellyn wrote long ago, we don't know what a case holds until later courts have had a shot at it. Under the Supreme Court's own very longstanding practice, the only "Opinion of the Court"--so styled--- is limited to Parts I, I, and II-C of Roberts' opinion.  In other words, only those parts have received the formal imprimatur of the Court concerning what lower courts must follow.

“In an article about plurality opinions that I wrote with John Davis--a former Supreme Court Clerk of Court and a great New Deal-era lawyer and adjunct here long ago--we contended that you should be able to piece together holdings out of anything a majority agrees on.  1974 Duke 59.  That has become the Court's practice.  We did not address the holding/dicta dilemma Roberts raises because in all of the relevant oddball exemplar cases--Tidewater Ins. and Oregon v Mitchell, for example--the various rulings were all holdings for the Justices who wrote them.  Thus, this is truly an unusual case. “

William Reynolds, JD, Jacob A. France Professor of Judicial Process

“The Supreme Court decision is a tremendous victory for individuals across the country and particularly persons in Maryland who cannot afford comprehensive health care coverage.  The State’s impressive efforts to establish the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange will all go forward - making Maryland a leader in the nation - and the Court's ruling on the Medicaid expansion provision will not adversely affect our citizens.  State officials have already stated that they intend to expand Medicaid coverage for all individuals up to 135% of the federal poverty level (funded primarily through federal funds) and, more important, to provide these newly eligible individuals the same health benefit package that is now available to Medicaid enrollees. This means that many low-income individuals, who can only get coverage for primary care services presently, will, in 2014, be able to access medical care for health conditions that require specialist care, such as cancer treatment.  The State has estimated that an additional 219,000 individuals will be eligible for Medicaid, and an estimated 405,000 individual are anticipated to purchase insurance through the Health Benefit Exchange.

“Individuals with mental health and alcohol and drug use disorders have a special reason to celebrate the Court's ruling.  The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to provide mental health and substance use disorder care as part of the Essential Health Benefits, and these services must be provided on par with services for other medical conditions. This is the largest expansion of health coverage for persons with these disorders that our Nation has ever seen. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that an additional 4.8 million individuals nationwide will gain access to substance use disorder services and 2.3 million individuals will gain access to mental health care in the individual market alone.  Just as important, new ACA provisions on preventive care require primary care practices to indentify harmful substance use problems among all patients. If properly implemented, these practices will not only help patients address problems before they become chronic conditions but will also save billions of dollars in medical costs related to hospitalization, ER costs and treatment of chronic health conditions related to untreated substance use.”

Ellen Weber, JD, Professor of Law, Founder, UM Carey Law Drug Policy Clinic and former advocate for health care reform and civil rights

Jane Wilson

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