Oral Arguments Concluded on Health Reform Bill in U.S. Supreme Court
March 30, 2012 by Adam White
The historic oral argument in front of the United States Supreme Court on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 ("PPACA") has concluded. The Supreme Court heard oral argument on a variety of issues within the health care reform legislation over three days this week. The six hours allowed for oral argument by the Supreme Court as the most on any single case in the U.S. Supreme Court’s modern history. If nothing else, the amount of time allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court shows the Court’s recognition of the significance of this legislation and the extreme consequences either way of their consideration of the issues.
The first day of oral arguments focused mainly on whether the parties had standing to challenge the legislation at this time. A well-known convention in American jurisprudence is that where legislation essentially imposes a "tax," the challengers of such tax cannot raise the issue until the tax actually takes effect. Attorneys defending the legislation had alleged that the penalties imposed by the requirement that all Americans carry health insurance, if such citizens did not purchase health insurance, essentially imposed a "tax." If the Court decides that such penalties are a tax, then the Justices could rule that the challenges to PPACA were premature and must wait until 2014 when these supposed "taxes" would take effect. There did appear to be some support from the liberal justices on the Court for dismissing the challenges under this theory. However, it appears more likely that the justices will not find this penalty to be a tax such that the entire appeal needs to be dismissed.
The second and third days in front of the Supreme Court were much more spirited with the oral argument and far more intense. It became quite clear form the types of questions that the justices were asking that justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito were likely to come down on the side of the legislation’s challengers as conservative members of the Supreme Court. While Justice Thomas remained silent throughout the oral argument, as is his typical manner, he is widely speculated to rule against the legislation given his previous inclinations towards strict constitutional interpretation. The other Justices signaled through their questions that they likely would be in favor of striking down at least parts of the legislation.
Similarly, Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan appeared through their questioning to be more in line with their traditional liberal philosophies. The liberal Justices on the Court were very strong in their questioning of the challengers’ attorneys throughout the proceedings. As such, the big question mark at this point is what the votes will be from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as their votes on the particular issues will likely impact the majority position of the Court.
Current scholars believe that a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to come sometime in the middle or end of June 2012. This oral argument comes fairly late in the Court’s current term, and it is likely they will release their opinion on this bill near the very end of the current term.
At this stage, companies, individuals, and others with interest in this bill continue to prepare for implementation of various acts of the bill as if it will be upheld. Some studies suggest that U.S. companies have many millions of dollars on compliance with the new law that has yet to take effect because the cost of non-compliance in waiting for a decision would be significantly greater if the law is upheld. As such, much of America will remain riveted by this issue and closely monitor the actions of the Supreme Court over the next two to three months until a decision is released.
For more information on the health reform bill, the current challenge in front of the Supreme Court or health law generally, please contact the health law attorneys with Erickson|Sederstrom.
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