WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama won a major legal and political victory at the Supreme Court on Thursday, when a narrow majority of justices upheld his signature achievement - the health care reform law. Analysts say the ruling could boost Obama's reelection hopes this year, but they caution that conservative opponents of the health care law could become energized by the high court's decision.
At the White House, the president was in a celebratory mood.
“Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country, whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it," he said.
Across town, Obama’s presumptive Republican opponent in November, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, repeated his campaign promise to work with Congress to repeal the law, which often is referred to as "Obamacare."
“What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States, and that is I will act to repeal Obamacare," said Romney.
The Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care law caught some analysts by surprise because the five-member conservative majority often is on the winning side of five-to-four decisions.
But this time, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed to the high court by former Republican President George W. Bush, joined with the court’s four-member liberal minority to fashion the ruling that upheld the health care law.
Analyst Norman Ornstein of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute says the decision is a major political victory for President Obama.
“This is an election that is going to be decided far more on the basis of the economy than anything else," said Ornstein. "But it is a big plus for the president to have his number one priority and major accomplishment vindicated, in a sense, by the Supreme Court.”
Obama supporters hope the Supreme Court decision will help the president’s reelection chances in November.
But Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown says the ruling has disappointed and in some cases angered conservatives and Tea Party activists, who might now become more determined to campaign against President Obama.
“This is a good day for the president politically," said Brown. "The court has upheld his signature achievement. That doesn’t mean that the Republicans are going to stop campaigning against the law and, in fact, this will obviously give Mitt Romney an issue that will resonate with parts of the electorate.”
Political analyst Charlie Cook says most Americans already have made up their minds on the health care law and that the Supreme Court ruling will have little impact.
“Is there any other issue that has been so thoroughly litigated in the court of public opinion than health care reform? And I think no matter what side you are on, you are not likely to switch," said Cook.
Morton Kondracke, executive editor of the Roll Call newspaper, says voters will largely decide the presidential election on the basis of the economy, not health care.
“It does give Obama a lift, there is no question about it," he said. "But what really counts is what is the unemployment rate in October. Has Europe collapsed, in which case we may have a double-dip recession, which will hurt Obama even though it won’t strictly be Obama’s fault. So I don’t think this is crucial or the deciding factor in the election.”
Supreme Court watchers were also fascinated with Chief Justice Roberts’ decision to side with the court’s liberal faction and uphold the health care law.
“It is a dramatic vindication of the vision of bipartisanship that Chief Justice Roberts expressed at the beginning of his tenure, but has had mixed success in achieving," said Jeffrey Rosen, a professor of law at The George Washington University.
The Supreme Court ruling on health care was the most eagerly awaited high court ruling since the decision following the 2000 presidential election, a five-to-four ruling that effectively declared George W. Bush the winner over his Democratic rival, Al Gore.