Health Care Arguments Day One: Common Ground

Day one of the three day marathon of oral arguments challenging the Obama administration’s health care reform law wrapped with lawyers for the Obama administration and challengers finding common ground. Both agree that the Court should hear the case now, rather than deferring a ruling until after 2014 when the individual mandate takes effect.

At issue today was the Anti-Injunction Act, which states, essentially, that any person objecting to a tax must first pay that tax and litigate the issue later. This threshold issue was raised because the first penalties for violating the health care law’s individual mandate do not take effect until 2014 and must be paid on federal tax returns in April 2015. Last year the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that courts are powerless to decide the law’s constitutionality because of this “pay first litigate later” requirement.

But the justices, while sparring on this point, seemed inclined to agree with the parties that a decision can (and should) happen now. This apparent concession may be political as much as it is jurisprudential. The case law around the Anti-Injunction Act and whether something is a “tax” or a “fee” is a mess and frankly the Court itself has not been consistent on whether how to read the AIA.

By the end of the arguments it was pretty clear that the justices understood, if not agreed, that the politics of the day require action. What happens to the case law surrounding the AIA as a result remains to be seen.

Tomorrow’s arguments provide the red meat of the appeal when the parties address directly the constitutional challenges to the individual mandate.

Even though today’s argument was largely procedural in that it focused on a jurisdictional question (that is, does the Court have the power to hear the case in the first place) it did offer some glimmers into the curiosity of the Court on the mandate as a whole.

It was almost like they couldn’t help themselves but in attacking the issue of “tax” versus “penalty” questions started coming about the mandate. The justices’ focused in on the challengers’ assertion that the buy-insurance-or-pay-a-penalty approach in the mandate was a way to turn people into lawbreakers in order to challenge the validity of the mandate. The Department of Justice flatly dismissed this argument, promising no one would be treated as a criminal because the only consequence is an assessment of a financial penalty, with no ancillary side effects like a revocation of parole if a parolee did not want to purchase insurance. The point is significant in that is suggests a very engaged Court and likely animated exchanges tomorrow.

Eventually the argument was brought back to the jurisdictional issue at hand and the day closed with a distinct sense of anti-climax. The real show is yet to come and everyone in the room knew it.

Related Stories:

Obamacare Supreme Court Arguments: The Basics

The Affordable Care Act Turns Two: Infographic

Photo from via flickr.


Will Rogers
Will Rogers4 years ago

It's a strange country that opposes healthcare for its citizens, it seems that even some working class are against it too! Is it because Obamas black or something? The rest of the world can't understand. If a Kennedy had brought it in or something I bet the country would be behind it. Another question we'd Like to ask you is, 'are you serious? Are you really against it in your hearts? Or is it just some kind of silly political game and it's going to go through anyway but you want to show opposition to it just I'm case the government wants to push through something that you really dislike? Someone please enlighten us as to what the rules of the game is?

Christopher C.
Chris C.4 years ago

"The future of Obamacare now lies in the hands of...
...Nine employees (judges) now covered by the Federal Health Insurance Plan"!!

Christopher C.
Chris C.4 years ago

“If conservatives can call it Obamacare, every time a family is forced to file for bankruptcy due to a medical misfortune, or a sick child is dropped by his insurance company, or a patient dies because she can’t afford surgery, we get to call it: “Tea Bagger Care.”

Christopher C.
Chris C.4 years ago

Maybe if we're lucky Anne C Jeffrey will have an accident with that motorcycle of his, or get very ill and very, very scared when he loses EVERYTHING due to unforeseen circumstances. Then and only then may he realize what he's saying is wrong!

Everyone here in America, no matter how well off they think they are, or that it could never happen to THEM better think again...people have lost their homes, jobs, health insurance due to catastrophic illnesses. Been canceled by the TRUE DEATH PANELS, the insurance companies because they won't cover a life saving procedure or a person has reached their lifetime cap due to an illness such as cancer.

Someday the people who are against Obamacare and/or Universal-Single-Payer healthcare will see that they're wrong when something bad happens to them!

Valarie Snell
Valarie Snell4 years ago

good article

Tracy S.
Tracy S.4 years ago

I am sure the rich didn'"t want to pay for Social Security back then..Lets pray America FINALLY catches up with the rest of the world caring for the people. The only ones fighting it are those who don't need it. Why should they be inconvenienced by the lazy,poor unemployed folks. UNTIL they know someone who dies from lack of care, they will not give a crap, and they call themselves "Christians"

Anne Cole
.4 years ago

Jeffrey's been posting a lot lately - time on your hands since the restraining order?

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

Obama was caught on a hot microphone today looking forward to his increased flexibility after the election. I wonder if he yet realizes that will be flexibility to help Carter build houses. He's done, and so is Obamacare.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W.4 years ago

The SG twisted himself into such a pretzel trying to square the contradiction between Obama's earlier claim that it was not a tax, and their present assertion that it is a tax, that one of his responses quite literally had the justices laughing at him.

Jessica, I know you have a serious aversion to logical thought, but just try to contemplate the contradiction between your statement that the Administration's wanting to have the court hear the case, and the SG spending the entire three hours today trying to convince some very skeptical judges that the case should be dismissed under AIA.

Here is what actually happened, The justices gave a very clear signal that the Administration should cut its losses of the AIA claim, and move on to the Commerce and General Welfare arguments. The justices clearly weren't buying.

That puts the Administration in a bind. First, they have to convince a skeptical court that it is Constitutional to force citizens to buy a product from a private company. That isn't likely to happen, but the political consequences for Obama are bad either way. If the mandate is thrown out, it reinforces Obama's image as incompetent and reckless in regard to liberty. If he wins, it will only further outrage the public, already hostile to Obamacare, as the details play out in front of them during the trial.

Obama was caught on a hot microphone today looking forward to his increased flexibility after the election. I wonder if he yet realizes that will be fl

Maurice Simoens
Maurice Simoens4 years ago

We need to support obamacare,he is the only president who is care about all americains,we dont need people like romney,santorum etc..they the republicains have done to mutch whats wrong for america,no more a republicain jerk,vote democrats and reelected obama for sure