It is one of the most important cases the Supreme Court has heard in years. Finally, after President Barack Obama’s health care bill passed, and after those opposed to the bill challenged it in court, the highest court in the United States will hear arguments on the case over the next three days.
However, depending on how today’s argument went, the next two days may be a moot point.
Today’s arguments in the Supreme Court centered around whether or not the Supreme Court could even hear the case yet.
The issue is an old piece of legislation called the Tax Anti-Injunction Act. First passed in 1867, it holds that someone cannot file a lawsuit about a tax when the tax has yet to be implemented. The argument today is whether or not the health care bill’s mandate that all citizens must purchase health insurance by 2014 — and subsequent penalty if they fail to do so — is a tax or not.
If the justices were to find that the mandate was equivalent to a tax, then they could essentially pass on hearing this case until 2015, whenever someone forced to pay for insurance — or the penalty for not having insurance — decided to file a lawsuit. It would essentially punt the issue three years down the road.
All indications from today’s Supreme Court hearing, though, is that the justices will rule that the mandate is not a tax, and that they can therefore consider the arguments that will be made on Tuesday and Wednesday in the court. On Tuesday, justices will hear arguments about whether or not the individual mandate itself is constitutional. On Wednesday, the justices will consider whether or not certain parts of the health care bill can survive if the mandate were to be ruled unconstitutional.
The hearings, lasting six hours and spread out over three days, are the longest the Supreme Court has had since 1966.
For more information on these hearings, check out this Washington Post blog entry. Excerpts from today’s arguments can be read at the Washington Post’s web site as well. The complete audio and transcripts from today’s hearing, which are rarely made public by the Supreme Court, can be found at the Supreme Court’s web site.
– Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPlace Money & Politics Editor
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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