Supreme Court signals health care case won't be held up over technicality
Supreme Court justices signaled Monday that the landmark case over the federal health care law will probably not be held up over a technicality.
That technicality was the focus of the opening round of hearings Monday. The issue before the judges was whether an obscure 1867 tax law prohibits lawsuits, like the ones challenging the health care law, from going forward until someone actually pays the insurance tax penalty -- the penalty for not buying health insurance, as required under the law.
If the justices decided the 1867 law applies here, opponents might have to wait until early 2015, when the IRS collects its first payments from uninsured taxpayers, to formally challenge the law.
But all parties in this case happen to agree, albeit for different reasons, that the law doesn't preclude the Supreme Court from moving forward.
And from the outset of arguments the justices appeared to be on the same page, as the first day of hearings wrapped up Monday around noon -- though little was said about the propriety of the health care law itself.
The justices disputed the notion that the insurance penalty is tantamount to a tax and therefore subject to that 1867 provision.
"This is not attached to a tax," said Justice Stephen Breyer.
Pressing the matter further, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the purpose of the fine for non-compliance is to get people to leave the ranks of the uninsured. "This is not a revenue raising measure. If it's successful, no revenue will be raised," she said.
Attorney Robert Long was assigned the defend the provision at issue in Monday's hearing.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor at one point asked Long a question about what "parade of horribles" would follow if the Court allowed the suits to proceed. Not finding Long's response satisfactory, Justice Antonin Scalia interrupted to say there would be no such parade and that Long would be unable to answer the question.
After the 90-minute opening hearing, some observers felt the Court would ultimately be unanimous in ruling that the health law challenges before them Tuesday and Wednesday should go forward.
The justices heard arguments as demonstrators from both sides gathered outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C.
The second day of hearings on Tuesday will be devoted to the most prominent dispute over the health care law -- whether it is constitutional for the federal government to require Americans to buy health insurance.
Fox News' Lee Ross and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.
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