Health Reform -- March 26, 2012 at 1:16 PM ET
Health Care Reform in the Supreme Court: Day 1 Audio and Transcript
Court sketch by William J. Hennessy Jr.
Even the overflow section at the Supreme Court was overflowing Monday as the justices began hearing the first day of oral arguments in the health care reform law suit.
Up first for their consideration: the technical question of whether the Court has the right to hear the case at this juncture or whether a law from 1867 demands that they wait.
That piece of legislation, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, prohibits federal courts from hearing challenges to taxes before they have been enforced. If the health reform law's penalty for not purchasing health insurance is considered a tax -- and if the Anti-Injunction Act applies to the health care law -- the Supreme Court could not entertain challenges to the law before 2015. For a full explanation of why, read NewsHour Supreme Court analyst Marcia Coyle's primer here.
According to Coyle, who was present in the courtroom for the full proceedings, "the justices saved their most skeptical questions for the lawyer who was arguing that the Anti-Injunction Act bars the Court from reviewing the constitutionality of the so-called individual mandate. They seemed more sympathetic to the argument made by the United States that while this 1867 law does preclude courts from reviewing taxes before they take effect, the penalty in the health care law does not operate as a traditional tax."
According to the Court transcript (found in its entirety below), one of the chief skeptics, Justice Stephen Breyer, noted that "Congress has nowhere used the word 'tax.' What it says is 'penalty.' Moreover, this is not in the Internal Revenue Code 'but for purposes of collection.' And so why is this a tax?"
The justices, Coyle said, had virtually no sympathy "for the argument made by the challengers to the health care law that only the individual mandate is at stake here and it can be considered separately from the penalty. So the 1867 law does not come into play."
Tune in to the PBS NewsHour this evening for Coyle's full analysis of the day's proceedings.
The full audio and transcript provided by the Court can be found below.
Our Health Page is full of additional information on the health reform law -- including a timeline, a report card, a cheat sheet, and a public polling update. If you have more questions about the law or the Supreme Court case, ask them here and on Twitter using the hashtag #HCRchat. We'll answer them in an online chat at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday.