Now the debate can begin in earnest over health care

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. To say it was a surprise is an understatement. That Chief Justice John Roberts would be the swing vote is astonishing. Some court watchers think it strange that the court dealt with the issue at all. It could have kicked the can down the road to 2015 when the “Individual Mandate” is scheduled to begin.

Now, many on the opposition side are at a loss for words. And they are ascribing all sorts of political motivations behind the court’s decision. Could it be that five judges, some of the most honored jurists in the nation, simply followed the U.S. Constitution and the precedents already guiding the court?

In a story published in The Telegraph on Sunday, Bloomberg News questioned 21 constitutional law professors at the top 12 law schools. Nineteen of the 21 thought the court would uphold the health care reform law if it followed precedent, but only eight believed the court would go in that direction. The majority was right and wrong.

What we want from our courts, particularly the high court, is to keep us within the lanes of the Constitution. The court isn’t always correct as evidenced by its Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 which upheld segregation. It took 58 years, but the high court did finally get it right with its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. There will be other challenges to the health care law, but for now an effort that began 100 years ago, a goal that has eluded the efforts of presidents dating back to Theodore Roosevelt has been achieved. We may debate the decision for another 100 years, but one aspect is beyond debate. Continuing down the path we were on with health care eating up more than 17 percent of our gross domestic product at $2.5 trillion in 2009 and set to double, according to the journal Health Affairs, by 2019, was unsustainable.

-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board