Justices ask: Spare some of 'Obamacare'?

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court considered on the third day of oral arguments whether the 2010 health care law should survive if a requirement at its heart is struck down. In separate arguments later Wednesday (March 28), the justices weighed whether the law unconstitutionally coerces states by its vast expansion of Medicaid.

In separate arguments later Wednesday (March 28), the justices weighed whether the law unconstitutionally coerces states by its vast expansion of Medicaid.

Justices actively questioned both sides in the morning and afternoon sessions that concluded six hours of oral arguments over three days on the controversial law commonly referred to as Obamacare.

At the heart of the law is a provision known as the "individual mandate," which requires nearly all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. After hearing arguments Tuesday (March 27) on the mandate, the high court heard arguments Wednesday on what happens to the law if they nullify that requirement: Should they sever it, permitting the rest of the measure to stand, or should they invalidate the entire law absent that provision?

Several justices seemed skeptical of former Solicitor General Paul Clement's assertion on behalf of 26 states and a business coalition that "the rest of the act cannot stand" if the "individual mandate" is found unconstitutional. Yet, some of the same justices also expressed concerns with arguments by Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler in favor of upholding the rest of the law in such a case.

Entering the afternoon arguments over Medicaid expansion, the conventional wisdom appeared to be the court was unlikely to find the federal government is unconstitutionally compelling states with the provision. Clement met strong resistance from some justices to his argument that it is coercive, but Chief Justice John Roberts and others seemed unsettled with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's defense of Congress' action.

The court is expected to render a decision on the health care law before it adjourns this summer.

The law -- in combination with subsequent federal rules -- not only has elicited widespread opposition because of the "individual mandate" but because of such provisions as its federal subsidies for abortion and an abortion/contraceptive mandate that critics say violates religious liberty.


Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.