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Conservative justices appear skeptical of health law’s insurance mandate

By | March 27, 2012


ACA arguments before the Supreme Court (day 2)

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In today's oral arguments, the second day of action at the Supreme Court, the individual mandate was the focus of a barrage of tough questions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy — traditionally the swing vote on a court composed of five Republican-appointees and four Democratic appointees — was among those expressing skepticism over the the law's requirement that people carry health insurance or pay a penalty. Kennedy said the government faces a "very heavy burden of justification" for that provision in the health reform law.

The Supreme Court has released a transcript and the audio for today's arguments.

Audio clip

Full audio: ACA Supreme Court hearing, day 2

<br clear="all" /><br clear="all" />National news coverage

Politico: Conservative Justices Skeptical Of Individual Mandate

Conservative justices attacked the central provision of President Barack Obama's health care law Tuesday, expressing deep skepticism that the government can force Americans to buy insurance. On the second day of oral arguments, the Supreme Court grappled with the linchpin of the legislation — the individual mandate (Budoff Brown and Gerstein, 3/27).

The New York Times: Hard Questions From Justices Over Insurance Mandate

With the fate of President Obama's health care law hanging in the balance at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, a lawyer for the administration faced a barrage of skeptical questions from four of the court's more conservative justices. ... The questioning was, even by the standards of the garrulous current court, unusually intense and pointed. And the atmosphere in the courtroom, which is generally subdued, was electric (Liptak, 3/27).

The Washington Post: Supreme Court Turns To Key Constitutional Issue In Health-Care Law

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ended two hours of arguments about the key component of the nation's health-care overhaul, with the court's dominant conservatives appearing deeply skeptical that the Constitution gives Congress the power to compel Americans to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, traditionally the justice most likely to side with the court's liberals, suggested that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act invoked a power "beyond what our cases" have indicated the Congress possesses to regulate interstate commerce (Aizenman and Barnes, 3/27).

The Wall Street Journal: Conservative Justices Challenge Government Over Health Law

As in lower courts, the federal government on Tuesday struggled to outline a workable principle that would limit the ability of Congress to require people to make other kinds of purchases in the future. Chief Justice John Roberts said that if the court approved of the mandate, it may be hard to set limits. ... The law's challengers ... view the insurance requirement as an unprecedented intrusion on individual liberty. ... The Obama administration argues the insurance mandate is a valid way to address a national crisis in which the uninsured impose huge costs on the U.S. health-care system (Radnofsky, Kendall and Bravin, 3/27).

The Associated Press: Conservative Justices Question Health Care Law

Sharp questioning by the Supreme Court's conservative justices cast serious doubt Tuesday on the survival of the individual insurance requirement at the heart of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul. ... The biggest issue, to which the justices returned repeatedly during two hours of arguments in a packed courtroom, was whether the government can force people to buy insurance. And if so, could other mandates ... be far behind? (Holland and Sherman, 3/27).

Reuters: Supreme Court Divided Over Obama Healthcare Law

During two dramatic hours of arguments, pivotal justices on the nine-member court suggested they would uphold the so-called individual mandate requiring people to obtain insurance only if they believed they were not giving Congress broad new powers over people's lives. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, two conservatives who could join the four liberal justices to uphold the law, pressed an attorney for the Obama administration to say where the limits would be on federal power if people who opted against insurance were forced to buy coverage (Biskupic and Vicini, 3/27).

CNN: Supreme Court Divided Over Health Care Mandate

"Most of the times, the questions that are asked at oral arguments are a pretty good predictor of where things are going to go," said Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst, who added he thinks the health care reform law is in "grave danger." ... To Toobin, the court's four liberal justices ... were clearly supportive of the law's constitutionality, while conservative justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia appeared certain to rule against the law. With Justice Clarence Thomas also considered certain to vote on the conservative side, the issue would be decided by the remaining votes of Kennedy and Roberts, Toobin said (Mears, 3/27).

Bloomberg: Some Justices Question Health Law's Constitutionality

U.S. Supreme Court justices voiced skepticism about President Barack Obama's health-care law, hinting they might strike down his biggest domestic achievement just months before the election. ... Justice Anthony Kennedy said the requirement to obtain coverage is telling individuals they "must act." Kennedy, who most often occupies the court's ideological middle ground, said, "That changes the relationship of the government to the individual in a fundamental way" (Stohr and Asseo, 3/27).

Chicago Tribune: Justices Signal Possible Trouble For Health Insurance Mandate

The tough questioning of the administration's lawyer is no sure sign of how the justices will rule when they hand down their decision in the case, Department of Health and Human Services, et al., vs. State of Florida, et al., likely in June. But Tuesday's arguments may signal trouble for the mandate, widely seen as a cornerstone of the law's program for achieving universal healthcare coverage for the first time in the nation's history (Levey, 3/27).

ABC News: Key Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Kennedy Skeptical Of Obamacare Mandate

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr, who seemed at times nervous and hoarse, arguing on behalf of the law, told the justices that the health care law was passed to address a "fundamental and enduring problem" in that millions of Americans were unable to get health care. But the conservatives on the bench had some tough questions for the government lawyer (De Vogue, 3/27).

More coverage

Previous coverage of health reform and the Supreme Court

Anticipating the Supreme Court's ruling

Supreme Court to rule Thursday on health care reform
New consumer protections depend on high court's ruling
Court challenge could result in Medicaid cutbacks instead of expansion
GOP promises smaller-scale health care agenda if court strikes down law
Some health system changes will stay, no matter how Supreme Court rules
Obama administration finds 3.1M young adults gained coverage under law
What's at stake for Medicare beneficiaries in health reform ruling
What's at stake for women if health law overturned
Washburn law professor holding to prediction that health reform law will be upheld
Even without the individual mandate, health law would still affect millions

The Great Health Reform Debate: Kansas experts weigh in
"The system we have in this country is a failure because people do not have equal access to care," said retired Stormont-Vail HealthCare CEO Maynard Oliverius. He is one of six Kansas experts who weigh in on the health reform debate ahead of the Supreme Court's ruling on the law.
Watch the six video shorts here.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court

Day 1 — Anti-Injunction Act
Guide to what happened at the Supreme Court
Day 2 — Individual Mandate
Kansas AG Schmidt encouraged by justices' skepticism of health reform law
Justices grill Obama administration on health law
National media round-up
Day 3 — Medicaid Expansion and Severability
Vigorous severability, Medicaid questions

Preview to the Supreme Court oral arguments

Schmidt’s pledge to join ACA challenge bolstered candidacy
Full interview: Derek Schmidt on the legal challenge of the health reform law
The Health Law and the Supreme Court: A primer for the upcoming oral arguments
Video explainer: The health care reform challenge before the Supreme Court

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Kansas rejects $31.5 million for insurance exchange

More archived stories and in-depth information on the Affordable Care Act

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