(ABC News)- In a landmark ruling with wide-ranging implications, the Supreme Court today upheld the so-called individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty, the key part of President Obama's signature health care law.
The court ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional, but it can stay as part of Congress's power under a taxing clause. The court said that the government will be allowed to tax people for not having health insurance.
"The Affordable care act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," the court said in the ruling.
The high court kept the country in suspense for days, announcing at the beginning of the week that it would hand down its decision today.
The ruling will have immediate effects on the presidential race. Obama has called his health care law "the right thing to do," even as polling has determined that the law is unpopular. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, had vowed to repeal "ObamaCare" as soon as he became president, despite championing remarkably similar legislation as the governor of Massachusetts.
Even Karl Rove, the GOP uber-strategist who founded an outside spending group to defeat Obama in 2012, said the ruling helps Obama.
"If this is actually the decision, it's a boost for the president, but it doesn't make the controversy go away," Rove said on Fox News. "In fact, it probably enhances the controversy."
The Supreme Court also upheld a Medicaid expansion, on narrow ground.
While just 36 percent of people in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll had a favorable opinion of the health law, a similarly low number of people — 39 percent — had a favorable opinion of the health care system as it stands now. And while the GOP has trumpeted polling that shows Americans unsatisfied with the law as a whole, the White House has boasted of surveys that show that people are warmer to individual parts of the law, like letting young adults stay on their parents' plans until they're 26 and barring insurers from denying coverage to people with so-called pre-existing conditions.
In court, the government argued that the health care law was passed partly because in 2009, 50 million people lacked health insurance. Costs of the uninsured were spiraling out of control and were being shifted to those who are insured, doctors and insurance companies. And, people with so-called pre-existing conditions were being denied coverage. The law offered insurance reforms but mandated that almost every American buy health insurance by 2014.
The government said that Congress was well within its authority to pass the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. As a secondary argument the government also said Congress had the authority to pass the mandate under its taxing authority.
Opponents — 26 states, an independent business group and two private citizens — said that while Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, it doesn't have the power to require people to buy a product. The opponents argued that the claim of federal power was both "unprecedented and unbounded."
In March, the court devoted more than six hours of arguments to different aspects of the law.