The Supreme Court and Obamacare

Obamacare is going to get its day in the Supreme Court. The court granted certiorari in—literally, informed the lower courts that it would hear—three cases challenging the Affordable Care Act on Monday. Its ruling in those cases next summer will help define the Roberts court’s legacy, and could have a major impact on the presidential election.


The Supreme Court was under pressure to hear the challenges. Three circuit courts had already issued conflicting rulings on the law. In September the Obama administration—which would prefer to argue the case itself rather than let the next Republican administration do it—decided to ask the court to rule on the law rather than ask the 11th Circuit Court to reconsider its ruling that it is constitutional to mandate the people by health insurance. And the Supreme Court can't easily turn down a government request to review a lower court decision overturning a piece of a major legislation.

The Supreme Court has set aside five and a half hours over the course of two days in March for oral argument. Five and half hours is an unprecedented amount of time for argument in the modern era—most cases get just one hour. As Lyle Denniston explains, two hours will be devoted to considering the constitutionality of the mandate requiring people to buy health insurance. An hour and a half will be devoted to whether the whole law must be struck down if the mandate is unconstitutional. An hour will be devoted to the constitutionality of the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor. And finally another hour will be devoted to whether the courts can even consider challenges to the law at this time.

If the Supreme Court rules that all or part of the law is unconstitutional, it would be a sharp rebuke to the president that would come just as the presidential campaign went into full swing. But it would also give Obama a chance to run against a court that he could portray as activist—a case that would be easy to make in light of the court's unpopular decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to overturn restrictions on corporate political spending. Conversely, of course, if the court ruled in favor of the administration it could energize the president’s political opponents. 

At issue are the limits to Congress’ broad power to regulate interstate commerce. As Sarah Kliff explains, there are a number of things Supreme Court could do short of affirming the constitutionality of the law. If the court finds the mandate to buy health insurance unconstitutional, it could decide to throw out the law entirely. But it could also decide that the mandate to buy insurance is “severable” from the rest of the law and allow the rest of the law to stand. That would probably drastically reduce the law's effectiveness, but would give the law's supporters a chance to salvage it.

As I’ve argued, there’s also a good chance that the court—which is already susceptible to charges of political activism in the wake of the Citizens United decision—may choose to sidestep the main issue by deciding that it can’t rule on the mandate before it goes into effect in 2014. That would allow the court to finally take up the issue at a time when it is likely receive less political scrutiny. That might leave the defense of the law to a Republican administration, but it would also give the law several more years to take effect and demonstrate its effectiveness.

Photo: Pete Souza

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Wealth inequality is literally killing us. The economy should work for everyone.

This economy has us in survival mode, stressing out our bodies and minds.

Videos
  • Economic hardship is linked to physical and psychological illness, resulting in added healthcare expenses people can't afford.
  • The gig economy – think Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, Handy – is marketed as a 'be your own boss' revolution, but it can be dehumanizing and dangerous; every worker is disposable.
  • The cooperative business model can help reverse wealth inequality.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less