Supreme Court Gets First Health Care Law Briefs

Updated: Saturday, 07 Jan 2012, 9:34 AM MST
Published : Saturday, 07 Jan 2012, 9:34 AM MST

(NewsCore) - Sticking to a schedule set by the US Supreme Court, the Obama administration and the 26 states opposing the health care law on Friday filed briefs detailing their arguments on whether the high court should overturn the Affordable Care Act -- the signature legislative achievement of the president's first term.

Lawyers from the Justice Department sent the court a 130-page filing arguing that Affordable Care Act's individual mandate provision -- which requires nearly all citizens to buy health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty -- is within the bounds of the federal government's constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) issued to the court a 169-page document that attempts to persuade the court that the entire law should be struck down if the individual mandate provision is found unconstitutional.

The responses to the briefs, as well as filings by outside interested groups, are scheduled to trickle into the Supreme Court before three days of oral arguments begin on March 26.

In its defense of the individual mandate, lawyers for the Justice Department said the law does not break any constitutional barriers and framed the legislation as a natural conclusion to a lengthy national debate on how to shrink the costs of health care.

"The Act in general, and the insurance reforms in particular, culminated a nearly century-long national effort to expand access to health care by making affordable health insurance more widely available," the filing said.

Obama's lawyers characterized the law as a valid federal mechanism to end a debilitating cycle of cost-shifting between the uninsured, the insured and the government.

"That cost-shifting drives up insurance premiums, which, in turn, makes insurance unaffordable to even more people," the brief said.

The 26 states and the NFIB have previously argued that the Constitution does not permit the federal government to force its citizens to by health coverage. Of the three appellate courts to decide on the merits of the individual mandate, two sided with the Obama administration and upheld the section and one struck it down as unconstitutional.

In its lengthy brief on the severability issue, the 26 states and the NFIB argued that the high court should strike down the entire law if the individual mandate is found unconstitutional because Congress did not intend for the law to function without its central provision.

"This Court cannot remove the hub of the individual mandate while leaving the spokes in place without violating Congress' evident intent," the filing said.

The Affordable Care Act has been vigorously opposed by every major Republican presidential candidate.

Friday's filing by the Justice Department is likely to only increase the importance of the law in the Republican primary season, as the brief cites with approval the Massachusetts health care law passed with the support of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney when he was governor of that state.

"Massachusetts in 2006 successfully paired insurance market reforms with a provision requiring individuals to pay a tax penalty if they do not 'obtain and maintain creditable coverage,'" Obama administration lawyers wrote.

"Congress cited the Massachusetts law as a template for key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including the minimum coverage provision."

Romney has struggled to distance himself from the health care law throughout his campaign and has claimed that he will strip as much of the law as he can by executive order if elected president.

The Supreme Court has scheduled five-and-a-half hours of oral arguments to discuss the law -- five-and-a-half times the normal allotment of time.

The high court is due to issue a ruling on the law by late June.