Monday, March 26, 2012

Taking It to Court

The Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — goes to the Supreme Court today.

The Supreme Court begins its constitutional review of the health-care overhaul law Monday with a fundamental question: Is the court barred from making such a decision at this time?

The justices will hear 90 minutes of argument about whether an obscure 19th-century law — the Anti-Injunction Act — means that the court cannot pass judgment on the law until its key provisions go into effect in 2014.

It is the rare issue on which both sides agree: the Obama administration lawyers and those representing the states and private organization challenging the new law argue that the Supreme Court should decide the constitutional question now.

But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit disagreed, and so the Supreme Court ordered arguments on the issue.

At the heart of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the requirement that almost all Americans either obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The question the court will consider Monday is whether that penalty should be considered a tax. And if it is, does the Anti-Injunction Act mean that courts must stay out of the way until someone is actually required to pay it?

The first time that could occur is when someone files a tax return in 2015, because that is how the penalty would be collected.

Oral arguments over the bill are expected to last through Wednesday, which is an extraordinary amount of time set aside. Sarah Kliff at Wonkblog has a guide to what the court will hear over the next three days.

Even good lawyers aren’t making predictions about how the court will rule on anything other than the fact that they will do so by the end of June.