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As everyone may have heard, the Supreme Court this week took on the monumental task of hearing arguments on the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. I certainly don’t envy the justices’ job of parsing the legal implications and intentions of the law – and as the reports from inside the court show, there are plenty. Yet as the analysts say, the crux of the decision will come down to whether the rest of the law can stand if the individual mandate is struck down, and whether the mandate to expand Medicaid goes too far.
“My approach would be if you take the heart out of the statute, the statute is gone," said Justice Antonin Scalia. Chief Justice John Roberts noted the near-impossible task of discerning what parts of the law Congress wanted to survive – and even the intent of the name Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “That’s just an inquiry that you can’t carry out,” the chief justice said. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned whether unchallenged elements of the bill should be thrown out. (Read more on this issue here.)
Also in question is an expansion of Medicaid in order to millions more uninsured Americans on the rolls, and whether such an expansion violates the Constitution. Twenty-six states are challenging this portion, arguing that they will be forced to spend $20 billion more over the next 10 years.
"Why is a big gift from the federal government a matter of coercion?" Justice Elena Kagan asked. "It's just a boatload of federal money. It doesn't sound coercive to me, let me tell you."
And today – Friday, March 30th – the justices will meet together to discuss, and could very well know the fate of the bill – a fate the rest of us won’t find out until sometime in June, when the decision briefs are published.