SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Bay Area elected officials are responding enthusiastically to Thursday’s historic Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“This decision is a victory for the American people,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

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“With this ruling, Americans will benefit from critical patient protections, lower costs for the middle class, more coverage for families, and greater accountability for the insurance industry,” Pelosi said.

>> Download the full Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care Act (.pdf)

Congressman John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, a former state insurance commissioner, said, “The Supreme Court sided with our authority to improve health care for all Americans.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer called the ruling “great news for the millions of Californians who have already seen the benefits of this law.”

But California Republican Party Chair Tom Del Beccaro said, “Today, our American system of government changed dramatically if not irrevocably. Congress can now tax citizens into doing what it wants,” Del Beccaro said.

Santa Clara University constitutional law professor Margaret Russell agreed that the decision is historic but at the same time called it “narrow and careful.”

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“It will be part of the legacy for which the Roberts court is known,” Russell said.

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Chief Justice John Roberts, together with four liberal members of the court, formed the 5-4 majority upholding the law’s centerpiece, a mandate requiring that most Americans buy health insurance or to pay a penalty.

Roberts wrote that the penalty “may reasonably be characterized as a tax” and is therefore within Congress’ constitutional taxing power.

The chief justice wrote, “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

Roberts and four conservative justices rejected another argument in which the Obama administration claimed that the law was a valid exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. But because a majority upheld the 2010 measure on the taxation ground, it remains in effect.

Russell said that while Roberts’ vote to uphold the law may have seemed surprising at first glance, his reasoning in accordance with strong existing case law affirming Congress’ taxation power.

She said she considers the ruling historically significant because of its impact on both the expansion of health care coverage and the public perception of the court’s role.

She said Roberts’ vote is consistent with his statement during Senate confirmation hearings in 2005 that judges “are like umpires” who apply rules but don’t make them. Roberts was nominated by President George W. Bush.

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