In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's sweeping health care law on Thursday, ruling that the individual mandate -- a provision that would require Americans to have insurance -- is constitutional.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said the individual mandate could be upheld under a taxing clause -- not a commerce one.
"The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance," the opinion said. "The federal government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance."
So, essentially the ruling clarifies how the law's most controversial provision is indeed constitutional but deflects the application of it to elected leaders of Congress. "We do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies," Roberts wrote. "That judgment is entrusted to the nation's elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions."
Read More: The Supreme Court decision
Voting in the majority to uphold the law: Chief Justice Roberts (who provided the swing vote), Justice Breyer, Justice Ginsberg, Justice Kagan and Justice Sotomayor.
Dissenters: Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito and Justice Thomas.
Obama held a noontime news conference Thursday, praising the 5-4 ruling.
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this,”Obama said in a speech. “It should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics." It's now time to move forward, he said, and the time "to keep the focus on the most urgent challenge of our time — putting people back to work.”
Mitt Romney, the all-but-certain GOP presidential candidate, said Thursday that he disagrees with the high court's decision.
"What the court did not do in its last session I will do on the first day if elected president of the United States, and that’s to repeal Obamacare," he said.
As the verdict circulated online, several Republican leaders pounced the court’s interpretation of the law. “This is an even more far-reaching decision than even anyone could have expected,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, a former GOP presidential candidate, said Thursday on CNN.
“This now turns the IRS into an enforcement mechanism for Obamacare. This is a middle-class tax increase,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. “It’s going to have a devastating impact on the economy.”
Former GOP presidential contender Herman Cain tweeted a news article that quoted Obama specifically saying that the measure was not meant as a tax.
"To say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it," Justice Thomas wrote. "Imposing a tax through judicial legislation inverts the constitutional scheme, and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry."
Both Republicans and Democrats have framed the issue as an election-year trigger that will elicit a crushing political blow to the losers. The ruling today is a major win for Obama and Democrats who championed the law.
“This decision is a victory for the American people," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class, more coverage for families, and greater accountability for the insurance industry."
Immediately after the decision was announced, congressional Republicans said they would bring up a vote after the July 4 recess to repeal the health care law.
“The president’s health care law is hurting our economy by driving up health costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "Today’s ruling underscores the urgency of repealing this harmful law in its entirety."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that the decision "makes one thing clear: Congress must act to repeal this misguided law. Obamacare has not only limited choices and increased health care costs for American families, it has made it harder for American businesses to hire."
The crux of the health care debate centered on how justices would rule on the law’s “individual mandate” requiring Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or incur a monetary penalty. Opponents say the Constitution’s Commerce Clause does not give the government the right to mandate that Americans buy insurance or, in effect, face a fine.
Read More: 'Obamacare': The word that defined the health care debate
But White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this week that the administration is "confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, in keeping with decades of precedent under the Commerce Clause. We continue to implement the law accordingly, and we are ready for the Supreme Court's decision, whatever it may be."
Background of ‘signature’ legislation
The health care law, often known as Obamacare, was signed March 23, 2010, and trumpeted by the president as his signature accomplishment in office. "I'm signing this reform bill into law on behalf of my mother, who argued with insurance companies even as she battled cancer in her final days," Obama said at the time.
The bill came to the Supreme Court after four different federal appeals courts -- in Washington, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Richmond, Virginia -- ruled differently on parts of the law.
It's an election year after all...
Romney has frequently criticized Obamacare, even though the Obama Administration has said that it copied major parts of the bill from a similar measure passed in Massachusetts when Romney was governor.
In March, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus ridiculed the bill on its two-year anniversary. "President Obama is not celebrating," he said. "He would rather Americans forget about his signature 'accomplishment,' because today it is a massive, undeniable failure and a heap of broken promises."