Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama Care Oral Arguments Underway

On Monday, March 26, 2012, oral arguments in front of the United States Supreme Court got underway to hear the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

The Supreme Court scheduled an unprecedented six hours over three days for oral argument this week after granting certiorari. At issue is the Act's individual mandate to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty. two federal appellate courts have upheld the mandate, one declared it unconstitutional and one appellate court declined to decide the issue under the Anti-Injunciton Act, ruling the issue could not be decided until tax payers are actually harmed by having to pay the tax/penalty in 2015.

Monday's oral argument focused mainly on whether the Anti-Injunction Act prohibited the present challenge, and whether the requirement that a tax payer who fails to purchase health insurance is assessed a tax or a penalty, which would dictate whether the AIA applies. There was discussion between the Justices and amicus curiae court appointed counsel Robert A. Long whether the Anti-Injunction Act is jurisdictional, thus robbing the courts of the ability to hear the issue, or directed at the Solicitor General, thus prohibiting the litigants from filing suit.

Nomenclature was an issue regarding whether the assessment is actually a tax or a penalty. Right out of the box, Justice Alito quipped to the Solicitor General for the Department of Justice Donald B. Verrilli, "General Verrilli, today you are arging that the penalty is not a tax. Tomorrow You are going to be back and you will be arguing that the penalty is a tax." When Chief Justice Roberts referred to the assessment as a penalty, attorney for challengers to the Act, Gregory G. Katsas, corrected "taxes, Mr. Chief Justice."

The attorneys were peppered with questions mainly from Ginsberg, Scalia, Sotomayor, Breyer, Roberts and Kegan, with a few questions from Alito and Kennedy. Thomas remained characteristically silent during argument.


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