ObamaCare is headed to the Supreme Court

It’s official, the Supreme Court announced this morning that it will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of ObamaCare, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, at some point during the Spring:

The Supreme Court said on Monday it would consider the challenge to last year’s health care reform law, setting up a major ruling on the Obama administration’s signature legislative achievement just months before the presidential election.

The case is likely to be heard in March, meaning that a final decision is likely at the end of the Court’s term, in June.

Apparently in recognition of the complexity of the issues presented by the cases, the Court has asked for an unusual amount of time for oral arguments. The order said the court would listen to five and a half hours of arguments—a rare departure from its usual practice of allocating an hour to hear a case.

The arguments will revolve around four issues — most notably the individual mandate, which requires individual Americans to purchase a government-approved health insurance plan. SCOTUSBlog has a run-down of the what exactly the Court will hear:

The Court, however, did not grant all of the issues raised and it chose issues to review only from three of the five separate appeals before it.  It is unclear, at this point, whether all of the cases will be heard on a single day.

The Court will hold two hours of argument on the constitutionality of the requirement that virtually every American obtain health insurance by 2014, 90 minutes on whether some or all of the overall law must fail if the mandate is struck down, one hour on whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars some or all of the challenges to the insurance mandate, and one hour on the constitutionality of the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.   The Court chose those issues from appeals by the federal government, by 26 states, and by a business trade group.  It opted not to review the challenges to new health care coverage requirements for public and private employers.  It left untouched petitions by a conservative advocacy group, the Thomas More Law Center, and three of its members, and by Liberty University and two of its employees.

The amount of time alloted to the arguments is apparently a modern record, according to SCOTUSBlog. Over at Cato, Ilya Shapiro explains what the order from the High Court means:

This morning, as expected, the Supreme Court agreed to take up Obamacare.  What was unexpected — and unprecedented in modern times — is that it set aside five-and-a-half hours for the argument.  Here are the issues the Court will decide:

  1. Whether Congress has the power to enact the individual mandate. – 2 hours
  2. Whether the challenge to the individual mandate is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. – 1 hour
  3. Whether and to what extent the individual mandate, if unconstitutional, is severable from the rest of the Act. – 90 minutes
  4. Whether the new conditions on all federal Medicaid funding (expanding eligibility, greater coverage, etc.) constitute an unconstitutional coercion of the states. – 1 hour

In addition to the length of argument, which we can expect to be heard over multiple days in March or April, perhaps the biggest surprise is the Court’s decision to review that fourth issue.  There is no circuit split here — in large part because 26 states are already in this one suit — and no judge has yet voted to uphold what also be described as a claim that the federal government is “commandeering” the states to do its bidding.  The Court probably took the case precisely because so many states have brought it; that former solicitor general Paul Clement is their lawyer also doesn’t hurt.  As a practical matter, this could be a bigger deal than the individual mandate because, while Congress had never before tried an economic mandate, it certainly does attach plenty of strings to the grants it gives states — and the spending power is thought to be even broader than the power to regulate commerce.

In any event, the Supreme Court has now set the stage for the most significant case since Roe v. Wade.  Indeed, this litigation implicates the future of the Republic as Roe never did.  On both the individual-mandate and Medicaid-coercion issues, the Court will decide whether the Constitution’s structure — federalism and enumeration of powers — is judicially enforceable or whether Congress is the sole judge of its own authority.  In other words, do we have a government of laws or men?

Some conservative observers, including former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), are nervous that the recent decision out of the DC Court of Appeals could serve as a stepping stone for Justice Anthony Kennedy  to vote with the liberals on the Court to maintain ObamaCare as existing law.


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