Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Justices Question Extent of Federal Power

At WSJ, "Arguments Over Health-Care Law Veer Into a Challenge to Medicaid as Obama's Signature Measure Faces a Rough Ride":

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ended three momentous days of argument Wednesday over the constitutionality of the Obama administration's signature health-care law, with opponents pushing their rhetoric into fundamental questions about the limits of Washington's power.

Conservative justices suggested that if one part of the law is judged unconstitutional, the entire health overhaul with hundreds of provisions may have to fall with it. In the afternoon, the case took a twist that upended expectations, as the conservatives challenged the basis of the federal-state Medicaid program.

Together, the questions underscored the rough ride the administration suffered over the three days that left President Barack Obama's top domestic achievement in doubt. On Tuesday, justices challenged the law's centerpiece, the requirement that Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, sharply questioned both supporters and opponents, leaving his ultimate position in doubt.

In his final minutes before the court Wednesday, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli sought to seize the patriotic mantle from the law's challengers, who have portrayed their effort as a defense of fundamental American values.

Expanding health coverage through the private insurance market or Medicaid, as the Obama law envisions, will extend "the blessings of liberty" to individuals hobbled by disabilities or families decimated by illness, Mr. Verrilli said. "There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease" who won't have to worry about medicine, he said.

But as the marathon arguments—extended 30 minutes, at the order of Chief Justice John Roberts, to a total of 6½ hours—neared an end, it was Paul Clement, representing 26 Republican-led states opposed to the law, who had the last word.

"I certainly appreciate what the solicitor general says, that when you support a policy, you think that the policy spreads the blessings of liberty. But I would respectfully suggest that it's a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not," Mr. Clement said.

He added that the health law's expansion of Medicaid "is a direct threat to our federalism."
See also, the Los Angeles Times, "Justices poised to strike down entire healthcare law." (At Memeorandum.)

BONUS: Pundette has more.