KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Skeptical Justices Ask Tough Questions About The Insurance Mandate

In yesterday's oral arguments, the grilling aimed at the Obama administration's lawyer by the court's conservatives raised the prospect that the law's centerpiece could be overturned.   

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Expresses Doubts On Key Constitutional Issue In Health Care Law
In an intense interrogation of the government's lawyer, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the justices posed repeated and largely unanswered questions about the limits of federal power. At the end of two hours, the court seemed split on the same question that has divided political leaders and the country: whether the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty (Barnes and Aizenman, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Justices Question Health Law
The Supreme Court's conservative justices sharply challenged the Obama administration's health care overhaul Tuesday, raising clearly the prospect that the president's signature domestic achievement could be struck down. The court's liberal and conservative wings seemed inclined to split evenly over the question of whether the "individual mandate" requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a fine is constitutional (Bravin, 3/27).

Reuters: Skeptical Justices Question Obama Health Care Law
The Obama administration faced skeptical questioning from a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by conservatives on Tuesday during a tense two-hour showdown over a sweeping health care law that has divided Americans. A ruling on the law's key requirement that most people obtain health insurance or face a penalty appeared likely to come down to Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, two conservatives who pummeled the administration's lawyer with questions (Biskupic and Vicini, 3/27).

The New York Times: In Court, Sharp Questions On Health Care Law's Mandate
With the fate of President Obama’s health care law hanging in the balance, a lawyer for the administration faced a barrage of skeptical questions on Tuesday from four of the Supreme Court’s more conservative justices, suggesting that a 5-to-4 decision to strike down the law was a live possibility (Liptak, 3/27).

Reuters: Broccoli, Cellphones And The Obama Health Care Law
If Congress has the power to require that Americans obtain health insurance, U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday asked hypothetical questions on what would be next -- insisting that people eat broccoli, buy a cellphone or get burial insurance? During a second day of arguments over President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts likened health care services for the sick to such emergency services as police, fire and ambulance assistance (Vicini, 3/27).

Kaiser Health News: Day 2: Justices Grill Obama Administration On Health Law
Kaiser Health News contributor Stuart Taylor, Jr., tells Jackie Judd the conservative justices were especially skeptical today, asking sometimes-hostile questions of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli (3/27). Read the interview transcript or watch the video.

NPR: Mandate's Fate Seems To Rest On Kennedy, Roberts
At the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, hostile questioning from key justices seemed to imperil the individual mandate, the central provision of the Obama health care overhaul. … But for supporters of the law, the worrisome questions came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, the justice who most often swings the court in 5-4 decisions (Totenberg, 3/27).

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Looking For Signs Of How Justices Will Rule
The law's supporters had pinned their hopes on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often cast the swing vote in decisions that split on ideological lines. But Kennedy seemed just as skeptical of the mandate as the other conservatives. He described it as "unprecedented" and saw a "heavy burden of justification" to uphold it under the Constitution. Without Kennedy's vote, the law's supporters face long odds (Field, 3/28).

NPR: Supreme Court Cheat Sheet: A Quick Guide To The Day 2 Arguments
In contrast to Monday's dense and technical arguments, Tuesday's session was filled with sharp rhetorical volleys and clever analogies. Here are some of the more telling exchanges between the lawyers and the high court justices (Halloran, 3/27).

Market Watch: Justices Show Split Over Health-Insurance Mandate
Supreme Court justices appeared to be split largely along ideological lines after hearing arguments over whether U.S. citizens should be made to buy insurance or pay a penalty -- the central issue in the health-care-reform debate -- in a second day of hearings Tuesday. Transcripts of the day's proceedings, however, indicated that there may be two swing votes in Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's perennial ideological straddler, Justice Anthony Kennedy (Britt, 3/27).

Modern Healthcare: Administration Attorney Strains For Answers On Insurance Mandate
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. faced a withering barrage of questions Tuesday from Supreme Court justices about what limits would remain on congressional power if federal lawmakers can force Americans to perform an act such as purchasing health insurance. All three attorneys supporting and opposing the individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act faced skeptical justices and tough questions during the two hours of arguments, but Verrilli, arguing for the Obama administration, struggled to come up with a precise definition of the principle that would limit Congress' powers (Carlson, 3/27).

Politico: Did Verrilli Choke? And Does It Really Matter?
Tuesday may have been the biggest day in Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's career, when he went before the Supreme Court to defend the central tenet of the health care reform law. To many who were watching, it looked like he choked. "He was passive. He was stumbling. He was nervous," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told POLITICO. "I was just shocked.” His halting delivery was so pronounced that BuzzFeed mercilessly edited together 40 seconds of coughing, throat clearing and water-drinking. "I've seen him argue under pressure," said Arnold and Porter's Lisa Blatt, a former assistant to the solicitor general who's argued 30 cases before the Supreme Court. Blatt, who listened to audio of the argument, said, "That's not the way he usually sounds" (Feder, 3/27).

Bloomberg: Some Justices Question Health Law's Constitutionality
U.S. Supreme Court justices hinted they might strike down President Barack Obama’s health care law as the court's Republican appointees suggested Congress went too far by requiring Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty. On the second of three days of arguments in the historic case, justices' questions indicated they might split 5-to-4, with the court's five Republican appointees joining together to overturn the law (Stohr and Asseo, 3/27).

San Francisco Chronicle: 5 Conservative Judges Tough On Health Care Law
The Supreme Court's conservative justices tore into the Obama administration's signature health care law Tuesday, posing the question: If the government can make individuals buy health insurance, why can't it make them buy cell phones or even burial insurance? When they vote together, the five conservatives are a majority of the nine-member court. President Obama's legal team went into the second day of oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act knowing they needed to win over at least one conservative justice to join the four justices who appeared more sympathetic to upholding the law (Freedman, 3/28).

The Fiscal Times: High Court Heads for High Noon on Health Care Act
[Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg] asked about what will likely be the step for liberal reformers should health care reform be struck down: pursuit of a single-payer health care system. "You need a group to subsidize" people who need health care, she told Clement. "You're saying the only way that can be done is if the government does it itself. It has to be a government takeover. Is that your position?" (Goozner, 3/27).

Boston Globe: Court's Conservatives Question Health Law's Mandate
The Supreme Court's conservative justices raised concerns Tuesday that President Obama's health care law could open the door for the government to compel Americans to participate in all sorts of commerce, including the mandated purchase of cellphones, gym memberships, even burial insurance. The justices' probing questions during the second day of hearings over the constitutionality of Obama's signature health care overhaul served to jolt the law's supporters from any certitude that the court would find the requirement to have health insurance does not trample on individual rights (Jan, 3/27).

Kaiser Health News: Transcript: Highlights Of The Lively Arguments At The Supreme Court, Day 2
Kaiser Health News provides excerpts of some of the most compelling parts of Tuesday's oral arguments at the high court. Read selections highlighting how conservative justices aggressively challenged the government's position on the individual mandate (3/27).

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