The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling upholding the health care law championed by President Barack Obama reignited an intense debate, with Democrats celebrating millions of Americans getting access to insurance while Republicans railed against what they contend is a dangerous expansion of government.
Thursday's narrow 5-4 ruling was a victory for Obama, causing elation at the White House, according to an administration official.
"Today's decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law," Obama said in a televised White House statement.
Meanwhile, the ruling quickly became a rallying cry for Republicans who criticized the high court's reasoning and vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Andrea Saul, spokeswoman for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, said Friday night via Twitter that more than $3.2 million was raised in the hours after the decision was announced.
Beyond the election, Thursday's decision affects how Americans get medicine and health care and also provides new court guidelines on federal power.
The most anticipated Supreme Court ruling in years allows the government to continue implementing the health care law, which was passed in 2010 but doesn't take full effect until 2014. That means popular provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions and allow parents to keep their children on family policies to the age of 26 will continue.
In the ruling, the court decided the most controversial provision -- an individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance -- is valid as a tax, even though it is impermissible under the Constitution's commerce clause.
"It is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "Such legislation is within Congress's power to tax."
He later added: "The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. ... The federal government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance."
Roberts joined the high court's liberal wing -- Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- in upholding the law.
Four conservative justices -- Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas -- dissented. "To say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it," the justices wrote in their dissenting opinion. "Imposing a tax through judicial legislation inverts the constitutional scheme, and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry."
The polarizing law, dubbed "Obamacare" by many, is the signature legislation of the president's time in office.
It helped spur the creation of the conservative tea party movement and will be a centerpiece of the presidential election campaign.
Romney -- who, as governor of Massachusetts, signed a law that also had an individual mandate -- blasted Obamacare as bad policy and a bad law on a federal level, adding that defeating Obama in November is the only way to get rid of it.
"What the court did not do in its last session, I will do on the first day if elected president of the United States, and that's to repeal Obamacare," he said after the decision was announced.
How Thursday's ruling affects that election remains to be seen, especially given Americans' mixed views on the law itself.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday indicated 37% of Americans would have been pleased if the law was found unconstitutional, compared with 28% who would have been pleased if it had been found constitutional. The poll of 1,000 U.S. adults also found nearly four in 10 surveyed would have "mixed feelings" had the justices struck down the whole law.
On Thursday, Obama used the focus on the issue to spell out the law's benefits. The principle upheld by the high court's ruling is that no American should go bankrupt because of illness, the president said.
"I know the debate over this law has been divisive," Obama said. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I believe it is good for the country."
He said the country can't afford to "to refight the political battle of two years ago or go back to the way things were."
Other Democrats celebrated the victory for their major policy objective.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who helped push through the law when she was House speaker, cited the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a longtime proponent of health care reform who died before the bill became law.
"Now he can rest in peace," she told reporters, echoing what she'd earlier told Kennedy's widow by phone.
And former White House chief of staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lauded his former boss for having "courage to bend the needle of history and did something presidents have tried to do for 60 years," he said of broadening health care accessibility.
In his opinion, Roberts skirted the political debate, stating outright that "we do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies."