Health Reform Rests its Case

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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With an unprecedented three days of hearings, demonstrating protestors and a nation's healthcare future hanging in the balance, the U.S. Supreme Court had its most hotly contested case in years -- reviewing the Obama Administration's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The court started hearings on Monday, March 26, by looking into whether it could decide on the constitutionality of the healthcare-reform law. This question was raised in the context of an 1867 Anti-Injunction Act, which keeps courts from hearing tax challenges that haven't yet gone into effect.

However, justices were skeptical that penalties for individuals who did not buy healthcare could be considered taxes. With the interest of making a decision now, rather than waiting until 2014 when many of the new regulations will go into effect, both detractors and advocates of the overall legislation argued that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply.

On day two, a major focal point of the hearings was the constitutionality of the individual mandate, a provision in which individuals not covered by employer- or government-sponsored insurance plans would need to purchase healthcare insurance or face penalties. Pulling this linchpin piece of the legislation would essentially quash funding for the overall healthcare law.

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Arguing in favor of health reform, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli claimed that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives the government the power to enact the individual mandate. However, representing Florida and the 26 states opposing the law, Attorney Paul Clement argued otherwise: "The Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate existing commerce; it does not give Congress the far greater power to compel people to enter commerce, to create commerce, essentially, in the first place."

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