WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul is front and center at the SupremeCourt for three days of hearings to determine the fate of a law aimed at extending health insurance to more than 30 million Americans.
The justices will hear arguments beginning Monday in a highly partisan legal fight between the Obama administration and the 26 states that are leading a challenge to the largest expansion in the nation’s social safety net in more than four decades.
Outside the court building Monday morning, about 80 supporters of the law walked in a circle holding signs that read, “Protect my healthcare,” and chanting, “Care for you, care for me, care for every family.” A half-dozen opponents shouted, “We love the Constitution!”
A decision is expected by late June, in the midst of a presidential election campaign in which all of Obama’s Republican challengers oppose the law and promise its repeal, if the high court doesn’t strike it down first.
People hoping for a glimpse of the action have waited in line all weekend for the relatively few seats open to the public. The justices allotted the case six hours of argument time, the most since the mid-1960s.
Nurses Lauri Lineweaver and Laura Brennaman, who are completing doctoral degrees, had been waiting since noon Sunday and got tickets to see arguments. “It’s an honor to be in the court,” said Lineweaver, 35.
The court will release audio recordings of the arguments on the same day they take place. The first time that happened was when the court heard argument in the Bush v. Gore case that settled the 2000 presidential election. The last occasion was the argument in the Citizens United case that wound up freeing businesses from longstanding limits on political spending.
Outside groups filed a record 136 briefs on various aspects of the court case.
The first arguments Monday concern whether the challenge is premature under a 19th century tax law because the insurance requirement doesn’t kick in until 2014 and people who remain uninsured wouldn’t have to pay a penalty until they file their 2014 income taxes in early 2015.
Taking this way out of the case would relieve the justices of rendering a decision in political high season, just months before the presidential election.
The biggest issue before the court is Tuesday’s argument over the constitutionality of the individual insurance requirement. The states and the National Federation of Independent Business say Congress lacked authority under the Constitution for its unprecedented step of forcing Americans to buy insurance whether they want it or not.