Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court justices, beginning an epic debate over the Obama administration's healthcare law, gave no sign Monday they are inclined to put off a constitutional ruling on the legislation's mandate that all Americans have health insurance by 2014.That will be later today, and I'll update.
Instead, the justices in their comments and questions said they did not see a 19th century tax law as a legal barrier to ruling this year on challenges to the healthcare measure.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, those who do not have basic health insurance in 2014 must pay a penalty on their tax return to be filed in April 2015. Under the 19th century law, however, a taxpayer must pay his tax first and sue for a refund later.
But Justice Stephen G. Breyer, joining others, said he was not convinced that law stood in the way of action by the high court. Congress did not label the penalty a tax in the Affordable Care Act, he said. "It's up to Congress, and they did not use the word 'tax'," he said.
Justice Antonin Scalia said he was inclined to agree, but for a different reason. The courts can usually rule directly on legal challenges unless a law makes clear that judges should hold off. "It is hard to think this clear," Scalia said to laughter in the court.
During the 90 minutes of argument, none of the justices spoke strongly in favor of delaying a decision on the healthcare law.
On Tuesday, the high court is scheduled to turn its attention to the crucial question: Does Congress have the power under the Constitution to require all Americans to have health insurance?
Meanwhile, Althouse has been blogging it like crazy. See, "'The Supreme Court Justices "seemed to be all on the same page looking for a way to go ahead and decide the case even though they had different views on what theory to use'." And more at her tag: "ObamaCare."