An Insider’s Update from Today’s Supreme Court Hearing on the Affordable Care Act

by Rebecca Farley on March 26, 2012

No, we didn’t score seats inside the Supreme Court for the Affordable Care Act arguments this week – but we’ll be updating you on the major news out of the Court each day, along with a roundup of the best tweets from reporters who covered it live.

Close on the heels of the Affordable Care Act’s 2nd anniversary, the Supreme Court today began hearing arguments on the law’s constitutionality. The scene outside the Court was a lively one, with both supporters and opponents of the law holding rallies and a press conference – and a line for seats that began forming on Friday night.

Day 1 of the historic Supreme Court arguments centered on whether the coverage mandate – that is, the law’s requirement that all individuals have health insurance – constitutes a “tax.” If the financial penalty for failure to purchase insurance is legally equivalent to a tax, then an 1867 law known as the Anti-Injunction Act bars plaintiffs from challenging the coverage mandate until the first penalties are assessed in 2015. If the penalty does not equate to a tax, then the plaintiffs have standing to sue and the Supreme Court can issue a decision this year. Click here for the National Council’s analysis of the Anti-Injunction Act issue.

Reporters inside the courtroom observed that the Justices seemed skeptical of the argument that the mandate’s financial penalty is a tax. In fact, both the law’s challengers and its supporters in this case agreed, and an outside attorney had to be appointed to argue the position that the penalty is a tax. The Court is obligated to consider the issue because it is a question of jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the Justices’ questions today seemed to give little credence to the view that the penalty is not a tax.

The Court is expected to issue a ruling on this issue in late June. Meanwhile, hearings will continue tomorrow, with arguments on the constitutionality of the coverage mandate, to be followed on Wednesday by arguments on the Medicaid expansion and the question of whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the law. Click for the National Council’s brief summary of all four issues at stake.

What We’re Reading (and Listening To) Today

  • The full audio recording of the day’s proceedings has been posted online.
  • The Wall Street Journal live-blogged the arguments from inside the Court.
  • Professor John Sides of George Washington University comments on why the Supreme Court decision is unlikely to put the political debate to rest.
  • The LA Times published a photo gallery of the scenes from outside the Court.

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