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The Supreme Court and Healthcare - Final Arguments

What happened on the final day of the Supreme Court arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare? Legal Lad explains  

By
Adam Freedman
March 29, 2012

Yesterday – March 28 – was the third and final day of Supreme Court argument on the fate of the Obama health care law, the Affordable Care Act.  

The Court considered two issues.  The first one, known as “severability,” involves the following question: If the “individual mandate” is struck down, can the rest of the ACA survive?  

The second issue was whether the federal government can force the states to expand their Medicaid programs.  

With regard to severability, it seemed that none of the justices were inclined to follow the decision of the lower court (the Eleventh Circuit) that the individual mandate could be severed from the rest of ACA.  That leaves the Court two options, should it strike down the mandate: it can attempt to surgically strike down those provisions closely related to the mandate, or it can simply strike down the entire statute (all 2,700 pages of it), requiring Congress to start from scratch.  

Justice Kennedy suggested that he might be inclined to the former view, while Justice Scalia tended toward the other view (these justices are key because if the mandate is struck down – still a big “if” – Kennedy and Scalia are likely to be members of the majority).   On the issue of Medicaid, the question was whether the ACA violates the Tenth Amendment by making the States “an offer they can’t refuse,” namely: expand your Medicaid program or lose all of your federal Medicaid dollars.  Lawyers for the government pointed out that the Medicaid expansion was actually a “good deal” for the States because the federal government would underwrite most of the expenses.

But some of the justices were skeptical that the measure was favorable to the States – if it’s such a good deal, why would the government need such strong inducements?  However, challengers to this aspect of ACA face an uphill battle: the Supreme Court has never before declared a federal funding program to be unconstitutionally coercive.

Now that all arguments have been heard, we sit and wait for the Supreme Court to render a decision. Stay tuned to more from Legal Lad on the latest in this groundbreaking case!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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