First Day in Supreme Court Healthcare Debate

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear arguments today on President Obama’s health care reform. The nine justices will decide, after six hours of arguments spread over a span of three days, whether the legislation is unconstitutional or not. This is the longest amount of time devoted to a case in the high court in over four decades.

The Supreme Court of the United States

It marks the first time the court has considered striking down a president’s signature legislative achievement in the midst of his re-election campaign, writes Bloomberg Business Week.

Healthcare reform, surnamed Obamacare, extends insurance to about 32 million people. Among other things, the bill imposes heavier regulations on the health insurance industry, requires individuals to buy health insurance (known as the individual mandate) or be subject to a fine, and requires most employers to offer insurance to their employees or be subject to a fine. Some opponents of the law argue that the government has no right to require citizens to purchase something; proponents of the law counter that everyone consumes health care, and the only question is when.

Today the Supreme Court will here arguments for the question: does the penalty for failing to get insurance amount to a tax? A somewhat esoteric question, it references an 1867 law called the Tax Anti-Injunction Act, which requires people to pay a tax before they can challenge it. Since the fine for not having an individual mandate would not be paid to the IRS until 2015, today’s question would determine whether it’s too soon for the Court to determine the law’s constitutionality.

Protesters against health care reform

The court won’t immediately decide whether the Anti- Injunction Act applies and will continue to hear the arguments on other issues, writes Bloomberg Business Week. 

Below is the schedule for this week’s hearing, as provided by NPR. For more in-depth legal analysis of the arguments, click here.

March 27

Individual Mandate

The court will consider the question: Does Congress have the authority to compel people to buy health insurance? (2 hours)

March 28 (morning)

Severability

If the court strikes down one part of the law, such as the individual mandate, does the whole law become invalid? If not, are there other parts that are inextricably linked that would have to be struck down as well? (90 min.)

March 28 (afternoon)

Medicaid

The court hears arguments on requiring states to expand their Medicaid programs. (1 hour)

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