Today is the first of three days of oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court on the constitutionality of what is now generally known as ObamaCare, the epic 2010 health care overhaul law that in effect introduces mandatory health insurance by placing penalties on individuals who are uninsured. Arguments are scheduled for six hours over all – the longest in over 40 years. Experienced Supreme Court lawyers say that even a single 30-minute session is exhausting.
Today’s Monday session is all about jurisdiction and whether the Court is barred from hearing the case until the first penalties are due in 2015. The proponents of this view point to the 1867 federal Anti-Injunction Act, which says “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.” Or, in other words, that filing suit does not postpone your duty to pay taxes.
Because penalties for not having insurance only start in 2014 and must be paid on federal tax returns in 2015, some, including two federal appeals courts, believe that federal courts are barred from hearing the case at this time.
However, neither side to the argument objects to having the Court decide now. At the appeals court, the Obama administration dropped its initial objection in favor of a swift decision. The question, therefore, is whether the Anti-Injunction Act is jurisdictional, i.e. whether it must be followed even though neither side is raising it.
The question of jurisdictionality, as applied to the health care law, is very exciting and nuanced. For example, is the penalty a tax in the sense of the Anti-Injunction Act? Does the Anti-Injunction Act only prevent private parties or also states from challenging ObamaCare? The New York Times has a highly recommended overview.
Tomorrow’s Tuesday session will be on whether the Constitution grants the federal government the power to mandate health insurance, either through the Commerce Clause or through its ability to levy taxes.
Wednesday morning will see arguments on what should happen if the requirement to obtain health insurance is struck down. Must the whole law be shelved or can the balance remain?
Finally, Wednesday afternoon will be about whether Congress was permitted to expand the eligibility and coverage thresholds that states must follow if they are to remain eligible for Medicaid, a federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled.
It is an exciting week and we will make sure to keep you posted on the breaking news about this case.
(c) Picture: http://www.supremecourt.gov/
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs