Obamacare ruled constitutional; Twitter doesn't know what everyone is yelling about

A complicated ruling pushed the social network into chaos.

The first two tweets on my Twitter feed more or less sums up the social network's reaction to the Supreme Court's decision on healthcare:

With the benefit of a whole ten minutes to take stock, it appears zerohedge, although beaten by a tenth of a second, were more accurate (a strange world we live in). Bluntly, it is not possible to read an entire court ruling in ten seconds. The desire to be first led many tweeters to take the first mention of the individual mandate - the requirement that Americans buy healthcare if they can afford it - as gospel.

It wasn't just on twitter, however. CNN messed up bigtime:

And Fox News were just as wrong on their website:

So how did the confusion come about? The issue at stake was thought to be whether the mandate is allowed under the commerce clause of the US constitution. The federal government is allowed to regulate interstate commerce, and Obama's lawyers argued that mandating the purchase of healthcare fell under that. The supreme court, however, disagree, ruling that the mandate is not allowable under the clause.

This appears to have been where CNN stopped reading. Unfortunately, they didn't make it to the next bit. Since the only penalty for not buying insurance is a fine, a majority of the court held that the mandate is in effect a tax on not having healthcare - and thus allowable under the federal government's power to levy taxes. Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog sums it up:

The Court holds that the mandate violates the Commerce Clause, but that doesn't matter b/c there are five votes for the mandate to be constitutional under the taxing power.

Needless to say, twitter wasn't happy about twitter:


Now that the ruling has been released, we can see how CNN's error happened. They read up to halfway through page three, where it says "The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce.”" If they'd read to page four, they would have seen "the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power under the Taxing Clause".

In short:

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.