Justices Hear Argument That Health Case Is Premature

March 27, 2012
By , The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday appeared ready to clear away the last remaining obstacle to a historic ruling on President Obama’s health care overhaul.

At the opening of three days of arguments, the justices’ questions suggested that they were receptive to a point on which both supporters and opponents of the law agree: that the court should decide the case now rather than waiting until the law’s penalties for not having health insurance become due.

On Tuesday, the court will turn to the central question in the case, the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty.

The courtroom on Monday was packed to capacity, including with some members of the public who had waited in line since Friday, and the justices seemed energized, talking over each other more than usual.

Outside, demonstrators came with signs, while Rick Santorum, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, made an appearance in front of the courthouse to highlight his opposition to the law — Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment — and to note that another Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, had signed a state law with similar features when he was the governor of Massachusetts.

The argument on Monday was a sort of appetizer to Tuesday’s main course, a 90-minute debate over whether the court has the authority to hear the case yet, given an 1867 law, the Anti-Injunction Act, that says taxpayers may not challenge taxes until they become due.

The first penalties for violating the health care law’s individual mandate to obtain health insurance do not take effect until 2014, and they must be paid on federal tax returns in April 2015.

“This case presents issues of great moment,” said Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., “and the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar the court’s consideration of those issues.”

The justices appeared to agree, and they seemed ready to proceed to the main question. A decision on the constitutionality of the health care law is thus likely by June, as the presidential campaign enters its final stages.

It remains possible, though, that the Anti-Injunction Act will play a role in the case, if at least some of the justices are dissatisfied with the available options during their deliberations and are looking for a way to avoid a decision.

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/us/health-law-hearings-open-in-supreme-court.html

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