What if you bought a ticket to The Hunger Games and ended up watching Life Cycle of the Soybean?
That may describe the feelings of bemused citizens listening to today’s recorded oral argument on the first of three days of hearings in the case against the Affordable Care Act. Instead of death panels and broccoli patrols, they got to hear a discussion for law nerds about statutory construction and the definition of “tax.”
A crowd of protesters outside the Supreme Court on the first day of ACA hearings (Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
The Supreme Court opened hearings today on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—PPACA if we're going to be technical—but more commonly known as Obamacare. The six hours slotted for oral arguments are spread out across three days, and while the constitutionality of the individual mandate is the main issue at stake, there will be a host of other topics discussed, ranging from severability (whether the rest of the law can stand if the mandate is struck down) to whether Congress was within its bounds when it redefined Medicaid eligibility to include swaths of new people currently uninsured.
Last week I participated in a roundtable that on these issues, along with other GW faculty from public health and law—Sara Rosenbaum, Peter Smith, and Katherine Hayes—as well as former U.S. Senate Finance Committee staffer Mark Hayes and former House Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee Counsel Andy Schneider. You can find a synopsis here and the video here.
Today the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. It's the timid (or maybe wise) pundit who fears making predictions, so I'll go ahead and say this: the Court is going to uphold the ACA, by a vote of 6-3. Chief Justice John Roberts will join the four liberal justices and Anthony Kennedy in the majority, and Roberts will write the decision. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito will offer a vigorous and at times comically overstated dissent, in which they will decry the end of the freedom that universal health coverage will bring.
When the Supreme Court begins its extraordinary three days of hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, one of the oddities will be an amicus brief challenging the act’s individual mandate from 50 doctors who support national health insurance. They point out the inconvenient truth that, contrary to the administration’s representations, the government did not need to require citizens to purchase insurance from private companies in order to meet its goals of serving the health-care needs of the populace. Congress could have enacted a single-payer law.
Here are quotes from an anguished brief filed with the United States Supreme Court: “the present statute . . .departs markedly from any prior statute sustained as an exercise of the commerce power. . . .” It “is incapable of being regarded as within the scope of any of the other statutes or decisions.” Further, “there is no statutory precedent to support the Solicitor General's position in this case.” That position “is founded on a concept of the interstate commerce clause which has never been recognized by the Courts. While the wisdom of legislation is a matter for the Congress it is within the Court's proper prerogative to look with deep concern at an assertion of power never heretofore upheld.”
Say you’ve got a booming industry, one that already employs 2 million workers in the U.S. and is poised to add 1.3 million additional jobs by 2020. Imagine that the jobs cannot be off-shored, that the work helps decrease federal deficits, and millions of Americans depend on the industry just to get through their daily lives.
Now ask yourself: Should it be legal to pay the workforce of this thriving and essential industry less than the minimum wage?
When Daniel Coleman asked for sick leave from his job at the Appeals Court of Maryland, he was told he would be fired. The state's actions violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed by Congress in 1993. Unfortunately, thanks to the Roberts Court, Coleman has a right without an appropriate remedy. A bare majority of the Supreme Court held Tuesday that while Coleman's statutory rights were violated, he cannot sue the state of Maryland for damages. Once again, the conservatives on the Supreme Court have prioritized "states' rights" over human rights.
Seventeen years ago, in Springfield, Oregon, a local mechanic went into a fast-food restaurant, walked up behind a man eating lunch, and shot him to death in the back of the head.
A local grand jury refused to indict the shooter. There had been no altercation, no sign that the man shot was carrying a weapon. But the shooter believed that the victim had threatened his daughter. And the dead man was, in the words of the local district attorney, “a violent man, a drug dealer by trade.”
Maybe the shooter should have left it to the police, the district attorney said, but the victim should also have “moderated his behavior.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s phrase fell into the Supreme Court chamber with an ominous clang, like the sound of metal doors slamming.
Not surprisingly, Kent Holt, an assistant Arkansas attorney general, tried to mute the clang. Speaking of Evan Miller, who committed murder at 14 and is now challenging his sentence of life without parole, Holt said, “I'd respectfully disagree that he's a throwaway person.”
“What hope does he have?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.
Well, Holt responded, he could ask for a commutation of his life-without-parole sentence. He cited a 1979 Arkansas case stating that 30 such requests had been granted in the five years before.
Particularly after Charles Blow devoted his column last week to the subject, the so-far unprosecuted shooting of Trayvon Martin has deservedly gotten a lot of attention. For good reason, much of this attention has focused on Florida's odious 2005 revisions to its law of self-defense.