The U.S. Supreme Court handed President Barack Obama a major victory Thursday, upholding the key part of his controversial health care plan in a 5-4 decision.
The so-called "individual mandate" requires Americans to have health insurance or face a financial penalty. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court's more liberal justices, writing in his majority opinion that "because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not [the court's] role to forbid it, or to pass [decide] upon its wisdom or fairness.''
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor voted with Roberts to uphold the law.
President Barack Obama hailed the ruling as 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 also said the court decision reaffirmed that in the United States, the wealthiest nation on Earth, no illness or accident should lead any family to financial ruin.
"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," said President Obama.
Mr. Obama's expected challenger in the 2012 election, Republican Mitt Romney, promised to repeal the law on his first day in office, if elected. He said "Obamacare was bad policy yesterday. It's bad policy today," and warned the law will cause up to 20 million Americans to lose health care coverage they like or want to keep while also killing badly needed jobs.
"What the court did today was say that Obamacare did not violate the Constitution," said Romney. "What they did not do is say that Obamacare was good law or that it's good policy. Obamacare was bad policy yesterday. It's bad policy today."
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The Obama administration had argued the "individual mandate" is valid under the U.S. Constitution because all Americans will need medical care at some point in their lives, and there is no practical alternative to insurance.
Twenty-six states filed suit against the reform law, contending that individuals cannot be forced to buy insurance, a product they may neither want nor need.
Republican lawmakers were quick to respond to the court decision, using it to launch a renewed effort to repeal the law in its entirety.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, told reporters the court's ruling underscored the urgency to act.
He said, "There's a lot of resolve amongst our colleagues and amongst the American people to stop a law that's hurting our economy, driving up the cost of health care and making it more difficult for employers to hire new workers."
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also lashed out at the law, saying it "made the problems it was meant to solve even worse - the supposed cure has proven to be worse than the disease."
The U.S. business community is also speaking out.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said his pro-business group still feels the health care law is fundamentally flawed. If left unchanged, he said, "it will cost many Americans their employer-based health insurance, undermine job creation, and raise health care costs for all."
Still, the president's supporters applauded the ruling, hoping it will help lead to Democratic victories in the upcoming election.
The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, called the court ruling a victory for the American people because it "ensured health care would be a right for all, not a privilege for the few."
Thursday's decision drew a large and energetic crowd to the steps of the Supreme Court, with students, parents, priests and even some belly dancers anxiously awaiting the decision. But the ruling - a complex look at the constitutionality of the Obama health care law - sparked confusion. Many in the crowd - and some in the news media - were at first not clear about what the decision meant.
The law passed in early 2010 is the signature piece of President Obama's legislative agenda during his time in office. It is intended to address rising health care costs and the financial problems many Americans have faced in trying to obtain health insurance.
Demonstrators celebrate outside the Supreme Court after the court's ruling on health care, June 28, 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement in the East Room of the White House in Washington about the Supreme Court's decision on his Administration's health care law.
Claire McAndrew and Donny Kirsch, both of Washington, celebrate after the court's ruling.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks about the Supreme Court's health care ruling in Washington. "As you might imagine, I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision and I agree with the dissent," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi relays the breaking news to her staff on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Supporters of the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after the court upheld the legality of the law.
Supporters gathered in front of the Supreme Court before the court's announcement.
Tea Party supporter William Temple protests against President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul outside the Supreme Court.
Protesters' shadows are cast outside the Supreme Court.