KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

High Court Hears First Day Of Health Law Arguments; Justices Appear Skeptical Of Jurisdictional Question

Early reports provide insights into what went on inside the Court as justices contemplated whether the Anti-Injuction Act would preclude their review of the legal challenges to the individual mandate.

The Supreme Court has released the audio from today's session.

The Wall Street Journal: Justices Hear Health-Law Arguments
Supreme Court justices on Monday weighed whether the challenge to President Barack Obama's health-care law is ripe for a decision, opening three days of argument on the law with a string of skeptical questions for a lawyer who said the high court should wait. Court-appointed lawyer Robert Long told the court in the opening minutes that a decision on the case should be put off until at least 2014, citing a 19th-century law known as the Anti-Injunction Act. He described the principle of the act as "pay first, litigate later," meaning that any challenge to a tax should be litigated only after people start paying the tax (Radnofsky, 3/26).

The Associated Press: Justices Questioning Briskly In Health Care Case
The Supreme Court plunged into debate Monday on the fate of the Obama administration's overhaul of the nation's health care system, starting with pointed questions about a legal issue that could derail the case. A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of President Barack Obama's Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal if the high court hasn't struck it down in the meantime (Sherman, 3/26).

CNN: Supreme Court Begins Debating Sweeping Health Care Law
... [T]he Anti-Injunction Act ... bars claimants from asking for a refund on a tax until that tax has been collected and paid. This "gateway" issue could stop the current legal fight in its tracks if the justices indeed think the minimum coverage requirement amounts to a tax. In an unusual twist, the Obama administration is now siding with the law's opponents and will argue the mandate is not a tax. The high court actually designated a Washington private attorney, Robert Long, to argue in favor of the tax question. Citing that 1867 law might give the court, particularly conservative members, a way out of deciding the explosive issue in an election year (Mears, 3/26).

USA Today's The Oval: Supreme Court Ponders Obama Health Care Law
At the beginning of oral arguments on Monday morning, justices on the court's liberal and conservative wings both seemed skeptical that the law -- known as the Anti-Injunction Act -- would serve as a roadblock to deciding whether Congress can compel Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. That law generally requires people to pay a tax before they challenge it in court (Heath, 3/26).

The New York Times: In Health Case, 1st Question Is If It's Too Soon for Challenge
Lawyers for both the Obama administration and challengers to the law took the same side on this question, arguing that the Court could hear the case now. The justices appeared receptive, suggesting that they will reject the argument made by an outside lawyer that it is too soon to rule. That means they may be expected to issue a decision on the merits by the end of the court’s term in June, just as the presidential election heats up (Liptak, 3/26).

Bloomberg: Court Opens Health-Care Debate With Law That May Derail Case
First, the justices today hear arguments on a seemingly arcane question: Does the penalty for failing to get insurance amount to a tax? "There is at least some doubt about it," Justice Antonin Scalia told attorney Robert Long, who argued that the court should not decide the case. "I find it hard to think this is clear." A 145-year-old law, the Anti-Injunction Act, says courts can’t rule on the legality of federal taxes until they are imposed. For the no-insurance penalty in the 2010 health care law, which takes effect in stages, that comes in 2015. The justices may decide it’s too soon to rule on the health law's constitutionality" (3/26). 

Politico: First Glimpses Of Supreme Court's Thinking On Health Law
Justices on both ends of the ideological spectrum appeared skeptical that an arcane law, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, should delay a Supreme Court ruling for more than two years. The law prevents people from challenging a tax law until it has been paid — and the penalty for people who avoid the individual mandate will be enforced through the tax code. ... The justices gave few hints about their views on the crux of the legal challenge ... but did not seem inclined to put off a decision on the case until after 2014, when the penalty kicks in (Budoff Brown and Gerstein, 3/26).

Boston Globe: Supreme Court Weighs Whether Health Care Mandate's Penalty A Tax 
Washington attorney Robert Long, appointed by the court, argued that the 1867 anti-injunction law applies in this case because the penalties incurred by individuals who violate the law by refusing to buy health insurance would be assessed and collected in the same manner as a tax. ... Demonstrators gathered early this morning. By 8 a.m., dozens of supporters of President Obama's health care law marched while chanting "Care for you, care for me, care for every family" and holding signs that said "protect the law."  A lone man with a canvas satchel emblazoned with the American flag slung across his shoulders carried a handwritten sign saying: "Can you hear us now? 72 percent say 'No to Obamacare'" (Jan, 3/26).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Begins Review Of Health-Care Law
In a rare twist, both sides in the case ... argue that the Supreme Court should decide the constitutional question now. But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit disagreed, and so the Supreme Court ordered arguments on the issue. ... Long argued that the penalty in the insurance mandate is the equivalent of a tax for the purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. However, several of the justices pushed back against that interpretation (Barnes, 3/26).

MarketWatch: Supreme Court Leans Toward Ruling On Health Care
Antonin Scalia asked about the involvement of the Health and Human Services in considering the application of the penalty. Sonia Sotomayor remarked that no one would pay the penalty if they do get health insurance. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued that the Supreme Court does have jurisdiction to rule on the matter, was questioned by Samuel Alito on the seeming inconsistency of his position that the insurance-mandate penalties aren’t a tax for jurisdiction reasons, but a tax for constitutional purposes (Goldstein, 3/26).

Reuters/Baltimore Sun: Supreme Court Hears Historic Healthcare Law
Underscoring the issues dividing the country, hundreds of supporters and opponents marched outside the white-marble building across from the U.S. Capitol. Banks of news cameras set up in front of the court near where people lined up in hopes of getting one of the few seats open to the public (Biskupic and Vicini, 3/26).

Kaiser Health News: Capsules: Dozens Gather Outside Court Hoping to Witness, Shape History
Chanting "ACA is here to stay," and accompanied by a trumpet and drums, about 100 supporters of the 2010 health law rallied outside the Supreme Court Monday morning, as attorneys prepared for three days of oral arguments in the most anticipated high court hearing in years. Fewer than 20 health law opponents also demonstrated, including a handful of tea party activists and anti-abortion demonstrators who wore tape over their mouths (Galewitz, 3/26).

USA Today: Demonstrators Make Arguments Outside Supreme Court
Monday marked the first day of arguments by the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of the 2-year-old Affordable Care Act. Opponents of the law argued that forcing most Americans to purchase a health insurance policy is unconstitutional, while supporters argued that without the requirement, other Americans are forced to absorb the costs of those who can't pay. Although Monday morning pitched a few voices against many, Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the TeaParty Patriots, said she expects more people Tuesday (Kennedy, 3/26). 

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