Econontersect: In November the Supreme Court announced that they would hear 5 ½ hours of testimony on the 2010 Healthcare Act (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare) over a two-day session. At the time GEI News reported that this would be a modern day record for any case before the SCOTUS. If you had penciled that in the record book, get out the eraser: Monday (December 19) the court announced they have cleared the calendar for an entire week and will hear three consecutive days of testimony, March 26, 27 and 28, 2012, although the total number of hours scheduled over three days has not changed from the previous 2-day schedule.
The court will hear arguments on four aspects of the law that have been the subject of divided opinions from lower courts:
- Is it too early for a court ruling on the constitutionality of penalty of not buying insurance?
- Is it unconstitutional to mandate the purchase of insurance?
- Can the rest of the law take effect if the purchase mandate is stricken?
- Is it constitutional to withhold federal money if states do not comply with the law?
With regard to the first question, a ruling earlier this year, by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said it is too early for a court ruling on the penalty because none will be paid before federal income tax returns are due in April 2015.
Here is a summary from The Washington Post:
The Supreme Court will start the week of arguments that Monday with one hour on whether court action is premature because no one yet has paid a fine for not participating in the overhaul.
Tuesday’s arguments will take two hours, with lawyers debating the central issue of whether Congress overstepped its authority by requiring Americans to purchase health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty. The White House says Congress used a “quintessential” power — its constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry — when it passed the overhaul.
But opponents of the law, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, say that Congress overstepped its authority when lawmakers passed the individual mandate. A divided Atlanta court panel ruled that Congress cannot require people to “enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”
The Atlanta court is the only one of four appellate courts that found the mandate unconstitutional.
Finally, Wednesday’s arguments will be split into two parts, with justices hearing 90 minutes of debate over whether the rest of the law can take effect even if the health insurance mandate is unconstitutional and an extra hour of arguments over whether the law goes too far in coercing states to participate in the health care overhaul by threatening to cutoff federal money.
The SCOTUS will also examine a question that has been unsuccessfully raised by 26 states concerning the expansion of Medicare coverage for the poor, as well as the requirement that employers offer health insurance. None of the lower court rulings on these matters have found any constitutional issues.