WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is plunging into a three-day debate on the Obama administration's overhaul of the nation's health care system. In the opening minutes, the justices are asking pointed questions about a legal issue that could derail the case.
Eight of nine justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.
Under the new law, taxpayers who don't purchase health insurance will have to report that omission on tax returns for 2014 and will pay a penalty along with federal income tax. At issue is whether that penalty is a tax.
According to Governing reporter Dylan Scott in an earlier piece on what questions the justices will ask, "if the justices determine that the mandate’s financial penalty is a 'tax' under the Anti-Injunction Act, then [the] challenge will be dismissed."
After listening to the first half of the arguments, Kevin Russell of the SCOTUS blog reports that at least five of the nine justices' questions suggest that they want to move the case forward.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Sonya Sotomayor and Chief Justice John Roberts each suggested different theories why though, according to Russell.
Breyer and Sotomayor's questions suggested they did not think the penalty was a tax, while the Chief Justice suggested that even if it is a tax, the government has the authority to waive the bar and take the case anyway.
Alito suggested that he didn't believe the limitation is jurisdictional, and Scalia suggested that the court generally construes limitations on jurisdictions narrowly.
"Even though they may have had different views about ... why they should go forward with the case, they seem to be all on the same page," said Russell.
At end of hearing, Roberts noted that Congress did not call mandate penalty a tax, which would preclude Anti-Injunction Act. Just a guess.— GOVERNING (@GOVERNING) March 26, 2012
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.