In a somewhat surprising and extremely controversial decision, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's signature health care law Thursday morning.
The 2010 law's mandate that every American purchase health insurance or face a fine had been challenged on constitutional grounds by 26 U.S. states.
The mandate was upheld as a tax, however, by a 5-4 vote.
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal wing of the Supreme Court. Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog says Roberts effectively "saved' the Affordable Care Act.
Opponents cast the law, known pejoratively as "Obamacare," as the federal government forcing citizens to enter a market and buy a product against their will.
The government countered that the law was actually only regulating an existing market, as everyone requires health care at some point in his or her life.
Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer sided with the government and declared the law valid.
Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer agreed that the individual mandate should be upheld as part of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce.
Roberts disagreed, writing that the mandate is actually a tax, despite the Obama administration's reluctance to describe it that way during the bill's passage.
In any case, however, he declared the law constitutional as such, writing:"If an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes."
The U.S. Chief Justice added that this means "the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning an income."
Anthony Kennedy, often the court's swing vote, dissented, saying that he and three conservative justices believe "the entire Act before us is invalid in its entirety."
Republicans have vowed to repeal the law if President Obama is defeated in 2012, though that would also require control of the U.S. House and Senate.
In any case, the Supreme Court ruling signals a major victory for Obama, who sacrificed major political capital to get his signature piece of legislation passed.
For now, the liberal dream of national health care reform - some of which is already in effect, but the bulk of which is on hold until 2014 - remains realized.
What do you think of President Obama's health care law: