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Monday: Too Soon for a Ruling?

Monday: Too Soon for a Ruling?

Throughout its two years of existence, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has undergone substantial scrutiny and debate, but its fate lies in the hands of the nine Supreme Court justices this week. From Monday to Wednesday, the constitutionality of the law will be debated over an unprecedented six hours of oral argument. This blog is the first of three that will assess the arguments scheduled for each day, followed by a fourth that will outline the possible outcomes of all arguments taken together, as rulings on each of the four issues—the Anti-Injunction Act, individual mandate, Medicaid expansion and severability—affect the others. This week we will also feature guest blogs written by some of the most prominent voices on health care in the Reform Movement.

The most logical place for the oral arguments to begin is deciding whether a ruling on the constitutionality of the law is premature. A federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act bans challenges to a tax when that tax has not yet been levied. The individual mandate—the provision that requires most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, which some have argued amounts to a tax—does not go into effect until 2014. Therefore, lawyers will argue for 90 minutes on Monday whether the individual mandate is a tax, and therefore whether it cannot legally be challenged until individuals actually incur a fine. Both the Obama Administration and the law’s challengers believe the law is ripe for review, so the Court has hired a third lawyer to argue that the Anti-Injunction Act applies here.

As with any case, analysts and commentators outside of the courtroom have added their input. Some have argued that it would be best for the Court to find that the Anti-Injunction Act applies, thereby delaying a ruling on the law’s merits, because political elections are approaching and a decision on the law itself would add too much fire to the campaigns.

Others, however, believe that legally, the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply because of the way the law is set up and the way the challengers have framed their lawsuit: The challengers have repeatedly said that the purpose of their lawsuit is to stop the federal government from infringing on the rights of the individual, but the Anti-Injunction Act deals with lawsuits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.”

In another indication of the significance of this case, the Court will release an audio recording of today’s oral arguments this very day, instead of its usual practice of releasing audio recordings at the end of the argument week. And on Tuesday, the individual mandate will take the stage.

Visit the RAC’s resource page for more information on health care reform, programming ideas, and analyses on the Supreme Court case.


Published: 3/26/2012

Categories: Social Justice
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