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Jack M. Balkin, a professor at Yale Law School, noted that the new law structures the mandate as an amendment to the tax code and includes a discussion of the impact on state commerce, suggesting that the administration will defend it by citing the Commerce Clause as well as Congress’ power to tax under the “general welfare” provision. That provision says the federal government may impose taxes - in this case, the penalty for those who don’t buy insurance would be the tax - in order to provide for the “general welfare” of the country.

Not everyone agrees with that reasoning.

“It is a taxation and spending power, not an open-ended general welfare clause,” said Michael W. McConnell, a Stanford law professor and former circuit court judge appointed by President George W. Bush. “And by the way, ‘general’ had a very specific meaning in the late 18th century - it meant nationwide in scope, which is why some of the state-specific provisions are constitutionally dubious.”

Both lawsuits are in federal district courts, but analysts expect the issue to end up before the Supreme Court. If the high court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, the ramifications for Congress could be sweeping.

“It would be difficult for the court to hold that the law is outside of the power to tax and spend for the general welfare without calling into question various regulatory devices that both parties use in crafting legislation,” Mr. Balkin said. “Since the New Deal, both parties have used the taxing and spending power for a wide range of regulatory purposes and this is what the challenge to the health care bill calls into question.”

However, the justices have not been averse to striking down congressional laws favored by Mr. Obama. The president used his State of the Union address to attack, with the justices present, a decision that struck down limits on corporate and union spending for political campaigns on First Amendment grounds.

In his speech, Mr. Obama warned of foreign influence over U.S. elections while Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. silently mouthed that Mr. Obama was not telling the truth. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in response to a questioner at a speech some weeks later, called the president’s words “very troubling.”