US Supreme Court opens health care reform case

March 26, 2012 by Jim Mannion

The US Supreme Court appeared set to press ahead with an explosive review of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law Monday at the start of three days of complex hearings.

As the nine justices took their seats in a packed , hundreds of people gathered outside, some chanting and marching for or against the Act, derided by some as "Obamacare."

In Monday's 90-minute hearing, the justices considered arguments on the narrow question of whether they have jurisdiction in the case, or must wait until the law has fully entered into force after 2014 to rule on it.

The justices appeared to lean toward the view that the Anti-Injunction Act -- which bars legal action to impose prior restraint on Congress' power to tax people -- does not apply in this case.

"It seems to make no sense to separate the punishment from the requirement," Chief Justice John Roberts said, referring to the penalties imposed under the law on Americans who refuse to buy health insurance.

The government and the 26 states challenging the as unconstitutional both say the has jurisdiction, but the court assigned its own lawyer to make the case that it does not.

The justices sharply questioned Robert Long, the court-appointed lawyer, about why the penalty for not buying insurance should be considered a tax, and thus subject to the Anti-Injunction Act.

Justice Antonin Scalia said there was "at least some doubt" about whether the penalty was a tax, and "unless it's clear, courts are not deprived of jurisdiction."

Justice Ruth Ginsburg said the act "does not apply to penalties that are designed to induce compliance with the law rather than to raise revenue."

"There is nothing in the statute that should be treated as a tax," said Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing for the government.

Gregory Katsas, arguing for the states, said for the act to come into play the purpose of the lawsuit has to be to stop the taxes. But he said, "The purpose of this lawsuit is to challenge the mandate, not the tax."

A ruling is not expected until June, but if the court decides it does not have jurisdiction, any action on the law would be set aside at least until 2015.

"I think based on the arguments this morning, that the court is not likely to delay ruling on the merits until the individual mandate goes into effect in 2014," said Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer with the Constitutional Accountability Center, who filed a brief in support of the law.

The law's most controversial provision -- the so-called "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to buy insurance from 2014 or pay a fine -- is to be taken up Tuesday.

The top US court has set aside six hours for oral arguments in the case, the longest in the past 45 years. Hearings typically last only about an hour.

Both supporters and opponents of the Affordable Care Act have been holding demonstrations to make their voices heard.

"We love Obamacare, that's why we here," chanted some in the crowd outside the court.

Chris Crawford, a 20-year-old political science student, said he had come to witness history.

"I do not support the law. Giving the government the power to force citizens to buy something is a very dangerous precedent," he said.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum put in an appearance outside the court, highlighting the prominence the issue has taken in the 2012 presidential campaign.

The court's ruling could have enormous political ramifications, analysts say, especially if the court strikes down part or all of the reform.

"If the law is struck down, then the administration's signature achievement is gone," Ilya Shapiro, with the conservative publican policy foundation the Cato Institute, told AFP.

The law, enacted in 2010 but which will not come fully into force until 2014, is Obama's greatest accomplishment, realizing a long-held dream of generations of Democrats.

But Republicans seeking to thwart Obama's bid for a second term in the White House see it as an assault on individual liberties, and have vowed to repeal it if elected in the November presidential elections.

Apart from the measure requiring all Americans to purchase personal , other provisions bar insurance companies from refusing to insure people with pre-existing or chronic conditions.

The companies must also provide certain kinds of coverage that previously were excluded, such as contraception.

Explore further: Supreme Court set for key health overhaul hearing

Related Stories

Supreme Court set for key health overhaul hearing

March 26, 2012
Amid anticipation akin to a major sports event, the US Supreme Court begins hearing arguments Monday on President Barack Obama's landmark health reform, a case with huge implications for the nation and 2012 elections.

Obama health reform faces Supreme Court test

March 23, 2012
US President Barack Obama's landmark health reform faces a make-or-break test in the Supreme Court next week in a historic case likely to shape the nation's future political landscape.

US Supreme Court to decide Nov 10 on health care case

October 26, 2011
The US Supreme Court will decide on November 10 whether or not to take up the case of President Barack Obama's historic health care law, court sources said Wednesday.

US Supreme Court sets hearings on Obama health reform

December 19, 2011
The US Supreme Court will hear evidence challenging President Barack Obama's health care reform -- which has come under fire from Republicans -- over three days in March, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Obama asks Supreme Court to rule on health care

September 28, 2011
President Barack Obama's administration Wednesday asked the US Supreme Court to uphold his historic health care law, likely sparking an explosive legal showdown in the heat of the 2012 election.

US won't ask for review of court's health care ruling

September 27, 2011
The Obama administration said Tuesday it would not ask a US appeals court to reconsider its finding that part of the landmark health reform bill is unconstitutional.

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.