US Supreme Court to decide fate of healthcare law
By Anne K Walters Mar 28, 2012, 17:05 GMT
Washington - The US Supreme Court weighed Wednesday whether US President Barack Obama's health care reform law can stand even if the law's key provision is determined to be unconstitutional.
It was the third and final day of oral arguments in a challenge to Obama's health care reforms - a case that could spell the death of his signature domestic policy.
In the longest arguments before the court in decades, the nine justices are weighing whether the law that aims to extend health insurance coverage to nearly all Americans holds up to constitutional scrutiny. At the heart of the matter is whether Congress overstepped its authority in requiring all Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty.
The White House said Wednesday they remained confident the law would withstand legal challenges.
The lawyer for the government argued Wednesday that the part of the law requiring insurers to cover even patients with expensive pre-existing conditions could not stand without the most controversial provision requiring all Americans purchase health insurance if they do not receive it through their employer or existing government programmes.
The additional people are needed in the insurance pool to keep costs low, otherwise the provision becomes unworkable, argued Deputy United States Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler.
Paul Clement, a lawyer for the 26 states seeking to overturn the reforms, also argued that the entire law should fall.
Conservative justices seemed to agree, with Justice Antonin Scalia asking about the precedent of leaving the act standing without its central provision. 'When have we ever really struck down what was the main purpose of the act, and left the rest in effect?' he said.
Justices appeared reluctant to wade into the 2,700-page law and determine what pieces could stand without the so-called individual mandate that requires insurance purchases. The court's liberals seemed inclined to leave it to Congress to determine which other parts of the act to keep and which to strike.
'Why should we say it's a choice between a wrecking operation, which is what you are requesting, or a salvage job,' asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Unlike most laws, the health care measure does not include a clause that would allow the courts to strike down only one element of the bill.
A second set of hearings Wednesday afternoon discussed expansion of a government health care programme for the poor. State governments, which administer the programme, say the expansion would be too expensive.
On Tuesday, lawyers struck at the heart of the law with arguments about whether the government can force citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.
The court's four liberal justices appeared in questioning to be sympathetic to the government's cases, while Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts emerged as key swing votes on the issue among the conservative bloc.
Kennedy, usually the most likely of the court's five conservatives to join the four left-leaning justices in forging majority decisions, called the law's impact 'concerning.'
The justices subjected both sides to tough questioning, with Kennedy saying that the law's requirement for people to buy health insurance would change 'the relationship between the individual and government in a fundamental way.'
The hearings began Monday with procedural arguments about whether the court can hear a challenge to a law whose main provisions will not go into effect for years.
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