How Will the Supreme Court Rule on the Health Care Law?

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Members of the Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington before the start of the 2010 session. October 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
Members of the Supreme Court gather for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington before the start of the 2010 session. Later this month, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which affects almost every American, is squarely in its sights. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

On March 26, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case to determine the constitutionality of the landmark health care reform act that President Obama signed into law two years ago. The Washington Post Wonkbook’s Ezra Klein offers a helpful backgrounder outlining the details of the lawsuit, how it got to the Supreme Court and the different ways in which the Court may decide.

“The central argument is against the health reform law’s individual mandate: the requirement that most individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine. To challenge that provision, health reform opponents have relied on the Commerce Clause, the part of the Constitution that gives the federal government the authority to regulate multi-state economic activity.” Read more »

A comprehensive timeline from illustrates the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act as various provisions have rolled out over the past two years. There have been many. The Supreme Court decided to take up this particular case last November after a Federal Appeals Court declared the mandate unconstitutional.

Justices will spend six hours over three days (March 26-28, 2012) in the “longest scheduled arguments in the court’s modern history.” Their decision, which would affect the way in which millions of Americans access health insurance, is expected in June. Public interest in the case is high. A recent USA Today, Gallup poll found that health care is the third most important issue on voters’ minds, behind the economy and the deficit.

According to The Hill, C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb wrote Chief Justice Roberts a letter last fall asking for permission to televise the case. In part, the letter stated, “It is a case which affects every American’s life, our economy, and will certainly be an issue in the upcoming presidential campaign.” He has yet to receive a response. And a bipartisan effort to get cameras into the courtroom won’t pass before the court date as lawmakers weigh the propriety of telling the justices how to conduct their business.

Supreme Court observers predict that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli will walk into the courtroom with a 4-1 tally already in the Obama administration’s favor. The four liberal members of the court are expected to uphold the healthcare law and Justice Clarence Thomas is expected to vote to strike it down. The challenge will be to convince one or two of the conservative justices to split with the other conservative justices. The New York Times’ Adam Liptak reported yesterday that:

“The consensus among scholars and Supreme Court practitioners is that Chief Justice Roberts is unlikely to add the fifth vote to those of the four justices in the court’s liberal wing to uphold the law. But he is said to be quite likely to provide a sixth vote should one of the other more conservative justices decide to join the court’s four more liberal members.” Read more »

Either way, Liptak writes that it’s very likely that Roberts will decide with the majority — as he has done nearly 90 percent of the time — and it’s also likely that he will take the lead in writing the opinion. No matter what the outcome on the legal question ends up being, the political battle will no doubt continue through November, and probably beyond.

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