WASHINGTON, D.C. (MCT) — Supreme Court justices on Monday launched historic arguments over health care with hints that they won’t simply punt the big issues to another day.
While demonstrations and dueling news conferences competed for attention outside, in the courtroom the nine justices bore down on the initial legal question of whether it’s too soon to sue against the Obama administration’s signature health care law.
If questions are clues, the answer appears to be that the lawsuits are ripe for action. This in turn means the oral arguments that continue Tuesday and Wednesday on the law’s constitutional validity will ultimately lead to some crucial decisions later this year.
“This case presents issues of great moment,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., told the court.
The 90-minute argument Monday morning had little to do with the merits or even the substance of the 2,700-page health care law passed by congressional Democrats in 2010. Instead, it had much to do with a 19th century law and the meaning of the word “tax.”
The Anti-Injunction Act, first written in 1867, states that legal action cannot be taken to block a tax until the tax itself has been imposed.
The health care law imposes a fee, to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service at tax time, on U.S. residents who fail to purchase health insurance. This so-called individual mandate starts in 2014, and the first fees would be collected by April 15, 2015.
The arguments Tuesday will focus on whether Congress exceeded its constitutional authority to regulate commerce when it imposed this individual mandate. On Wednesday, the arguments will center on whether Congress went too far in directing states to expand Medicaid coverage.