Law

The Nine Circles of the ACA

(Flickr/diacritical)
Nobody was doing well by the time oral arguments in the Health Care cases ended at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. Some Justices were sniping back and forth. The lawyers were showing the strain. And Justice Antonin Scalia was telling jokes. “[Y]ou know—the old Jack Benny thing, Your Money or Your Life, and, you know, he says ‘I'm thinking, I'm thinking,’” Scalia said from the bench. “It's—it's funny, because it's no choice. ... But ‘your life or your wife’s,’ I could refuse that.” “He’s not going home tonight,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor threw in as the crowd laughed. “That’s enough frivolity for a while,” Chief Justice John Roberts (nobody’s straight man) said sternly. I think he, like me, was afraid we would never get home that night, as if the Supreme Court had sailed into some forensic dimension where the clock hands were frozen in ice. If you want to know how strange things got, consider that a Justice of the United States Supreme Court suggested that the Court should invalidate the entire 2,...

How Far Will the Supreme Court Go?

"Balls and strikes" my ass. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Just a few days ago, most people ( including me ) thought that while Thomas, Scalia, and Alito might display their naked partisanship in deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act, both Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts, concerned with maintaining the Court's legitimacy and integrity, would surely uphold the law. And now after the spectacle the justices made of themselves for three days, everyone seems certain that the law is doomed, in whole or in part. And it really was a spectacle, one in which, as E.J. Dionne says , the "conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee." What, you thought the Supreme Court's job wasn't to decide if they personally like a particular law, but whether it's constitutional? How quaint. Justice Scalia even asked whether if the government can regulate the insurance industry, it can make you buy...

The Best Signs from Yesterday's Tea Party Rally

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
Tea Partiers descended on the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to voice their disapproval of Obamacare as the Supreme Court debated the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which will require citizens to purchase health insurance or else face a nominal fee once the bill has been fully implemented in 2014. Initially a conservative solution—originating at Bush's favorite think tank The Heritage Foundation—the mandate has come to symbolize conservative distaste with the bill that will expand coverage to millions of currently uninsured Americans. The rally on a lawn north of the Capitol was hosted by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' political arm that has funded many of the Tea Party's major gatherings. AFP president Tim Phillips kicked off the proceedings, leading the crowd in chants of "repeal the bill." A sea of over a thousand Tea Partiers—largely middle-aged or elderly, and almost all white—in red "Hands Off Health Care" t-shirts were in attendance from across the...

Verrilli's Courage Under Fire

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
On December 10, 1935, during oral argument before a hostile Supreme Court, then-Solicitor General Stanley Reed collapsed at the lectern. (He recovered and went on to serve on the Court himself.) Let history show that Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did not stagger yesterday under a Four Horseman-style onslaught of conservative questioning that seemed to leave the government without a path to victory in the “minimum coverage” phase of the Health Care Cases. Yesterday's argument concerned the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the minimum-coverage, or individual mandate, provision. Under this rule, taxpayers who are not covered by employer or government health insurance will, after 2014, be required either to purchase an individual policy or pay a penalty on their tax returns. The requirement is designed to widen the insurance pool so that two other parts of the Act—one requiring companies not to discriminate on the basis of health risk, and the other forbidding them from...

The Unsurprising Possibility that the Court Could Strike Down the ACA

Wikimedia Commons.
I was somewhat surprised, prior to this week's oral arguments, how optimistic some of my favorite legal and political observers were about the outcome of the Affordable Care Act case being argued at the Supreme Court this week. The court, predicted Dahlia Lithwick , "will vote 6-3 or 7-2 to uphold the mandate, with the chief justice joining the majority so he can write a careful opinion that cabins the authority of the Congress to do anything more than regulate the health-insurance market." Linda Greenhouse foresees the Supreme Court upholding the law "by a wide margin." Kevin Drum also sees a 7-2 vote in favor of the ACA. Jon Chait argues that the law is clear, and acknowledges a chance the Supreme Court would simply ignore the law in the way they did in Bush v. Gore . I view things differently. I think there is a very real chance that the Court would strike down the law, and while I personally find these arguments exceedingly unpersuasive they're not "wrong" in the sense that they...

Pre-Game's Over. Now Begins the Health-Care Fight.

(Flickr/FadderUri)
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.” The staggeringly dull question: Does the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA), which prohibits taxpayers from suing the government until after they have paid a tax, prohibit the Court from hearing the health-care case at all? The resulting argument was abstruse, brilliantly conducted, and, well, snooze-worthy. The careful ear, however, could pick up the sound of the approaching guns. The health-care Armageddon arrives in full red-and-blue fury tomorrow. Today was just the opening shot. Read literally, the AIA would seemingly require the challengers to wait until 2014—when the...

A Decision Is Coming

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. I was outside the court this morning talking with protesters rallying for and against the bill (more on that to come later) but Prospect alum Adam Serwer was inside for Mother Jones listening to the judges debate the first issue at hand: can they even decide on the qualms with the law or do they need to wait until after 2014 when ACA is fully in effect? According to the 1867 Tax Anti-...

Will the Supreme Court Duck Health Care?

Wikimedia commons
The great legal theorist Alexander Bickel advocated that courts use "passive virtues"—that is, using invented jurisdictional reasons to not hear politically contentious cases. The political scientist Mark Graber has tweaked this concept to describe passive-aggressive virtues —the tendency of the great Chief Justice John Marshall to expound on his theories of constitutional law while deciding cases on grounds that left opponents no means of opposing the Court (usually because they ended up with the policy they wanted.) In an intriguing article for Slate, David Franklin argues that the Roberts Court could duck the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act using these methods. The Court, Franklin notes, could simply decide not to decide by holding that the legal challenge to the ACA is prohibited by the Tax Anti-Injunction Act . This would keep the court out of the political firestorm for the time bring while refusing to give Obama a political victory by clearly declaring the...

The Supreme Court, Health Care Reform, and Electoral Politics

(Flickr / TimmyGUNZ)
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 . My remarks centered on implications of health care reform for the 2012 election (as I previously wrote about here ). How might the Court’s decision affect the politics of the issue for the election? First, it’s likely that the Court’s decision—no matter what it is—won’t much affect overall public support or opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Court decisions often simply polarize approval—as in this study of Roe v. Wade. There are already early indicators that this will happen. In a March 2012 Kaiser Family Foundation poll , respondents were asked how they would feel if the court rules the individual mandate unconstitutional...

The Affordable Care Act On Trial

Flickr/DonkeyHotey
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. That may just be optimism talking; I've certainly allowed my hopes to outrun good sense before. There's a voice inside me that says "Don't forget Bush v. Gore !" In other words, the Court is perfectly capable of acting in a nakedly partisan manner if it so chooses, so the five conservatives could well decide that the opportunity to undo a Democratic president's signature domestic policy...

Single-Payer and the Supreme Court

(Flickr/surroundsound5000)
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. Since the Constitution unambiguously gives Congress the power to tax, there has never been a serious constitutional challenge to our tax-supported systems of health insurance, Medicare, and the services of the Veterans Health Administration system. In the words of the brief: Amici thus submit this brief for the purpose of disputing the primary tenet of the Government’s position, that Congress cannot regulate the...

Now Is the Law of Their Discontent

(Flickr/S.E.B.)
To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, of the making of many briefs there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. My flesh is weary after weeks of poring over the party and amicus briefs in the Affordable Care Act cases, which (in case you haven’t heard) will be argued next week. There are four overall issues in the case: (1) is the minimum-coverage requirement (or “individual mandate”) a permissible use of the Commerce Power? (2) If not, should the Court strike down the entire Act or only the minimum coverage requirement? (3) Is the bill’s requirement that states receiving Medicaid funds expand eligibility for low-cost health-care “coercive” to state governments? And (4) is the entire lawsuit against the “minimum coverage” provision barred by the federal Tax Anti-Injunction Act until after the provision takes effect in 2014 and some taxpayer has been forced to pay the tax penalty for not carrying health insurance? If those don’t seem to flow in logical order, they don’t—(4)...

Precedents for the Unprecedented

(Flickr/thesussman)
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.” That brief was filed in the 1964 case of Katzenbach v. McClung. Two months later the Supreme Court decided that Congress did have the power to “regulate commerce” by requiring Ollie’s Barbecue, a family restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, to serve African-Americans in its dining room. But the...

"That's Specious Reasoning, Representative"

Illinois Urban Landscapes Project, via Flickr Creative Commons.
Many of you will know this classic scene from The Simpsons , when Homer celebrates the expensive "Bear Patrol" created by city government as an overreaction to a single bear getting into the city: Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm. Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad. Homer: Thank you, dear. Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away. Homer: Oh, how does it work? Lisa: It doesn't work. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: It's just a stupid rock. Homer: Uh-huh. Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you? [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money] Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock. [Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange] Another person who would like to buy Lisa's rock is Florida state representative Dennis Baxley: "Every time you have an adverse incident, immediately the anti-gun faction will say this law is the problem," Baxley, a Republican, said, adding that violent crime in Florida has dropped since its...

Hard Work Doesn't Pay for Home-Care Workers

Home-care workers aren't casual babysitters, and it's time to make sure they don't get paid like one.

(Flickr/Steve Rhodes)
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? Currently, it’s perfectly licit. A loophole in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 exempts home-care workers—employees who provide personal care to the elderly and disabled in their homes—from basic work protections like the minimum wage and overtime pay. The rationale, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), was that people providing “companionship services” to seniors and people with disabilities were like casual babysitters. But this exemption, NELP points out, was never meant to include the extensive housework...

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