WASHINGTON -- When word of the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act reached the courthouse steps Thursday morning, supporters were jubilant.
But inside the courtroom, the mood was tense as Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the 6-3 ruling upholding billions of dollars in subsidies for Americans in every state to buy insurance.
"Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets," said Roberts for the majority, "not to destroy them."
Opponents argued Congress wrote the law to make tax credits only available to people who buy health insurance though exchanges "established by the state."
But only 16 states actually created their own exchanges -- so that would leave empty-handed more than six million people in 34 states who buy insurance and get subsidies through the federal Healthcare.gov website.
Roberts acknowledged the law "contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting," but said the opponents' approach would lead to a "calamitous result" and that it was "implausible that Congress meant the act to operate in this manner."
His opinion sparked a blistering dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, who took the unusual step of summarizing it from the bench.
Calling the Court's reasoning "absurd," "interpretive jiggery-pokery" and "pure applesauce," Scalia said the law was clear -- and accused the Court of rewriting it once again to get the result it wanted.
It was three years ago that the Court, again led by Roberts, upheld another key provision of Obamacare. Scalia said the cases together show "the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to... uphold and assist its favorites."
Scalia said, "We should start calling this law SCOTUScare."
Scalia and Roberts were in some ways much more heated than in their opinions three years ago, when conservatives felt Roberts betrayed them.
This was the last significant legal threat to Obamacare. Now the fight shifts to the political battlefield.