Analysis: A narrower mandate will survive court's scrutiny
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the health care reform law Thursday.
- CNN's Bill Mears has been asked repeatedly what the Supreme Court will do
- He says the individual mandate will survive, in a narrow fashion
- Chief justice will probably write majority opinion upholding mandate, Mears says
- He may have to think small and narrow: insisting that health care is unique in economy
Editor's note: Bill Mears has covered the Supreme Court for CNN for eight years. As the Supreme Court prepares to announce its ruling Thursday, there is much speculation on how the court will rule on the Affordable Care Act, one of the most polarizing pieces of legislation in American history. Truth is, no one outside the court knows. And the court isn't talking.
Washington (CNN) -- I have no inside information on what the Supreme Court will do Thursday on health care -- no one does -- nor any bit of wisdom that has not already been articulated by others, including CNN's fine team of reporters, analysts and contributors.
A timeline of health care reform
But since I have been asked repeatedly to predict the outcome, I will go against conventional wisdom and say the individual mandate -- which requires most Americans to purchase health insurance -- will survive, but in a narrow fashion.
Supporters of the health care legislation celebrate after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 ruling Thursday, June 28.
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I believe Chief Justice John Roberts will write the majority opinion upholding the mandate. One of the few stated prerogatives the chief justice commands when he is in the majority is the power to assign the all-important opinion-writing. It is through these opinions the court speaks, from where it derives its power and institutional prestige and authority.
If Roberts takes on this task, he will most likely try to navigate between two polar views on the mandate's constitutionality and the power of Congress to regulate "commerce."
That division was clear from the oral arguments: Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides at argument.
What you need to know
Roberts' reasoning for either upholding or striking down the mandate may not command a majority, meaning at least five justices agree on the outcome but not the constitutional basis on which the decision sits. That split reasoning could sow further uncertainty if and when Congress and the White House were to revise or entirely rework health care reform in the wake of the court's decision.
The tricky task of commanding a five-vote majority and keeping it over the weeklong contentious opinion-writing process may leave Roberts -- or whoever -- thinking small and narrow: upholding the mandate by insisting that health care is unique in the national economy and warning Congress not to go much further when regulating "commerce," i.e., no mandate to buy broccoli or American cars.
Only the justices, their law clerks and a handful of court officials know how this will end. But you can expect a complex, lengthy and perhaps baffling ruling or series of rulings.
Basics: Health care reform issues
Part of complete coverage on
The Affordable Care Act
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Thu July 5, 2012
In its ruling last week on the national health care law, the Supreme Court found that penalties the law places on people who don't buy health insurance count as a tax protected by the Constitution.
updated 4:03 PM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act means that the predictions about how it will affect Americans remain in place.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Fri June 29, 2012
With his opinion for a narrow majority of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has, for the first time since his confirmation as chief justice in 2005, breached the gap between the conservative and liberal wings of the court on a polarizing political issue.
updated 9:23 PM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
In a landmark ruling that will impact the November election and the lives of every American, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the controversial health care law championed by President Barack Obama.
Here's a breakdown of the votes an what the Supreme Court justices wrote about the health care ruling.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
The court's opinion, in preserving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, under Congress' taxing power, still gives a virtually unlimited sway to the power of the federal government, Stephen Presser writes.
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
Chief Justice Roberts, in a move that likely surprised many, joined the four more liberal justices in declaring that the mandate could survive, but as a tax.
updated 11:19 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
What exactly did the Supreme Court decide? Here's the nuts and bolts of their ruling.
updated 11:30 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
At stake in the court's ruling is the well-being of millions of Americans living with chronic diseases such as cancer.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its ruling on the health care reform Thursday. What the justices decide will have an immediate and long-term impact on all Americans.
updated 5:02 PM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
The Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Thursday. The landmark decision will dictate the way health care is administered to millions of Americans.
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Sun June 17, 2012
A look at key moments in the law's history from the start.
updated 11:19 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
A look at the four issues the high court tackled separately during oral arguments in late March. Those issues are expected to play key roles in the judges' final decisions.