United States citizens will be forced to purchase healthcare or pay a fine of $695 a year, beginning in 2015, if the Supreme Court uphold the constitutionality of Obama’s healthcare law, which is officially known as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Is this constitutional? Should the federal government be able to compel the citizens of the United States to pay an annual healthcare tax, regardless of whether or not they use healthcare services during that year? That is what’s under review.
Multiple federal judges, ruled the law unconstitutional after President Obama signed it on March 23, 2010. The case went to the Supreme Court under the title Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services.
What is derisively called “Obamacare” is a hot-button issue for the president during his first term in office. The healthcare law is currently in jeopardy of being struck down, even before being implemented.
The nine justices wrapped up three days of oral arguments on March 28, 2012 that addressed the individual mandate found in the over 2,000-page law that compels people to buy health insurance or pay a fine.
Attorney Paul Clement, who represented the plaintiffs (Florida and 25 other states), insisted that the most important question that must be addressed by the court has to do with Congress’ ability to make people buy things to stimulate a market.
“[The issue is] whether or not for the first time ever in our history, Congress also has the power to compel people into commerce because it turns out it would be a very efficient thing for purposes of Congress optimal regulation of that market,” Clement said.
This law has been a battle of Left vs. Right from its conception. After passing in Congress with no Republican support in the House of Representatives or Senate, the law went to the high court. Many expected that the justices appointed by Democratic Presidents would vote to uphold the law, while justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito would oppose it.
This leaves justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts to decide the fate of the healthcare law.
Day one of the oral arguments laid the groundwork for the issue at hand by assessing whether the mandate was a tax. It was important for the high court to decide if the healthcare mandate was considered a tax, because of the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 that prevents anyone from challenging laws that include taxes until those taxes are implemented.
This means that if the mandate was considered a tax, it could not be challenged until 2015, when the law goes into affect.
Day two addressed the specific issue of the individual mandate. Attorneys from each side argued whether or not the federal government may force people to enter the healthcare marketplace.
Constitutional scholar and professor of law at the University of California Berkeley, John Yoo, believes that the fundamental issue of the case is the individual mandate.
“The individual mandate is central to the whole idea of Obamacare,” Yoo said in an interview with the Hoover Institution.
Yoo believes that the plaintiffs have a strong case because the federal government has no authority under the constitution to force people to buy healthcare.
“The federal government does not have power under the constitution to compel people to enter the marketplace,” Yoo said.
Day three discussed whether or not the law could survive if the court struck down the individual mandate clause of the law. The severity of the individual mandate from the law is up for grabs and attorney Paul Clement did his best to say the two are inseparable.
“If the individual mandate is unconstitutional, then the rest of the act cannot stand,” Clement said.
“If you do not have the individual mandate to force people into the market, the community rating and guarantee issue will cause the cost of premiums to skyrocket,” Clement said.
Based off of the questioning from the justices and the arguments presented, I think the law will be struck down with a 5-4 vote.
The severability issue will be problematic for the justices that want to keep the law but agree that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.