Health care law challenge: A guide to Supreme Court hearings

March 24, 2012

Next week, the Supreme Court takes up various challenges to the sweeping health-care law that was adopted in 2010. Here is a guide to the arguments the justices will be weighing each day:

MONDAY: Is it premature for the Supreme Court to rule on the challenge to the law’s insurance requirement?

Beginning in 2014, the law will require virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. On Monday the Court will consider whether this penalty is equivalent to a tax. If so, under another law, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, the penalty cannot be challenged until it is actually levied on someone--and the earliest that could happen is 2015. Although the Obama administration maintains that the penalty does amount to a tax, for technical legal reasons it agrees with the plaintiffs that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply in this case. As a result, the Court has had to appoint an “amicus curiae” attorney to make the case that the Anti-Injunction Act bars the court from ruling on the constitutionality of the insurance requirement at this time. Arguments begin at 10 a.m. and are scheduled for 90 minutes:

Amicus to the Court : Robert A. Long, allotted 40 minutes
Representing the Administration: Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., allotted 30 minutes
Representing the Law’s Challengers: Gregory G. Katsas, allotted 20 minutes


Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. will be defending the health care law on behalf of the federal government. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

TUESDAY: Is the law’s insurance requirement constitutional?

The Court will consider whether Congress had the constitutional authority to enact the law’s requirement that virtually all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty beginning in 2014. (The administration argues that Congress had the right to do so under both its power to regulate commerce and its power to levy taxes.) Arguments begin at 10 a.m. and are scheduled for 2 hours:

Representing the Administration: Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., allotted 1 hour
Representing the States Challenging the Law: Paul D. Clement, allotted 30 minutes
Representing Other Parties Challenging the Law: Michael A. Carvin, allotted 30 minutes

WEDNESDAY: If the insurance requirement is ruled unconstitutional, should the rest of the health care law stand?

The Court will consider whether the individual insurance mandate is “severable” from the rest of the law. In other words, if the mandate is found to be unconstitutional should any other provisions in the law--or even the entire law--be invalidated as well? Arguments begin at 10 a.m. and are scheduled for 90 minutes:

Representing the States Challenging the Law: Paul D. Clement
Representing the Administration: Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler
Amicus to the Court: H. Bartow Farr III


Former Solicitor General Paul D. Clement will argue against the health care law on behalf of 26 states. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

WEDNESDAY: Is the law’s expansion of Medicaid to cover a greater share of the poor constitutional?

The law substantially expands eligibility for the joint state-federal insurance program for the poor. State participation in Medicaid is voluntary. However if a state pulls out of the program to avoid going along with the expansion it would be forfeiting an enormous amount of federal assistance to its neediest citizens. At issue is whether this means the expansion amounts to unconstitutionally coercing states to spend more on Medicaid. Arguments begin at 1 p.m. and are scheduled for an hour:

Representing the States Challenging the Law: Paul D. Clement, allotted 30 minutes
Representing the Administration: Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., allotted 30 minutes

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