Conservative Justices Question Health Care Law
|MARK SHERMAN and JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press|
Arguments at the high court focused on whether the mandate for virtually every American to have insurance "is a step beyond what our cases allow," in the words of Justice
But Kennedy, who is often the swing vote on cases that divide the justices along ideological lines, also said he recognized the magnitude of the nation's health care problem and seemed to suggest that it would require a comprehensive solution.
He and Chief Justice
The congressional requirement to buy health care insurance is the linchpin of the law's aim to get medical insurance to an additional 30 million people, at a reasonable cost to private insurers and state governments. Virtually every American will be affected by the court's decision on the law's constitutionality.
Audio for Tuesday's court argument can be found at: http://apne.ws/Hft6z3
The biggest issue, to which the justices returned repeatedly during two hours of arguments in a packed courtroom, was whether the government can force people to buy insurance. And if so, could other mandates _ to buy broccoli, burial insurance and cellphones, for example _ be far behind?
"Purchase insurance in this case, something else in the next case," Roberts said.
Kennedy at one point said that allowing the government mandate would "change the relationship" between the government and U.S. citizens.
"Do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authority under the Constitution" for the individual mandate? asked Kennedy.
At another point, however, he also acknowledged the complexity of resolving the issue of paying for America's health care needs.
"I think it is true that if most questions in life are matters of degree ... the young person who is uninsured is uniquely proximately very close to affecting the rates of insurance and the costs of providing medical care in a way that is not true in other industries. That's my concern in the case," Kennedy said.
He said the requirement would force people, especially those who are young and healthy, to buy a product they don't want.
Does it to have to be "a government takeover"? she asked.
Clement acknowledged that a system of national health insurance might well be constitutional.
Earlier, Scalia repeatedly pointed out that the federal government's powers are limited by the Constitution, with the rest left to the states and the people. "The argument there is that the people were left to decide whether to buy health insurance," Scalia said.
Scalia and Roberts noted that the health care overhaul law would make people get insurance for things they may not need, like heart transplants or pregnancy services. "You can't say that everybody is going to participate in substance abuse services," Roberts said.
On the other hand, Ginsburg said, "The people who don't participate in this market are making it more expensive for those who do."
"You could say that about buying a car," Scalia retorted, noting that if enough people don't buy cars the cost could go up.
But, unlike cars, almost everyone eventually will be required to use the health care system, Verrilli said in defense of the law. Without health insurance, he said, "you're going to the market without the ability to pay for what you're going to get."
Demonstrators returned Tuesday to the sidewalk outside the
More than a dozen opponents held a news conference criticizing the bill.
Supporters, two of them wearing statue of liberty costumes, marched to the song "Walking on Sunshine" and
One demonstrator opposing the law wore a striped prison costume and held a sign, "Obama Care is Putting the US Tax Payer in
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