Several U.S. Supreme Court justices questioned the constitutionality of the requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care law that Americans acquire insurance or pay a penalty.
“The federal government is not supposed to be a government that has all powers,” Justice Antonin Scalia said early in the March 27 two-hour argument on Obama’s signature legislative victory. “It’s supposed to be a government of limited powers.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy said the requirement to obtain health coverage is telling individuals they “must act.” Kennedy, who most often occupies the court’s ideological middle ground, said, “That changes the relationship of the government to the individual in a fundamental way.”
“Do you not have a heavy burden” to show the law is authorized by the Constitution, Kennedy asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued in the law’s defense.
The March 27 session was the second of three days of Supreme Court hearings held last week on Obama’s health care law. Twenty-six states say Congress exceeded its authority in approving the 2010 law, which would extend insurance to 32 million people and revamp an industry that accounts for 18 percent of the U.S. economy.
The court will likely rule in late June.
Verrilli, the Obama administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Verrilli contended that Congress can require people to buy insurance under its constitutional power to regulate the interstate health care market.
People who don’t buy health insurance and can’t afford to pay for care themselves are guaranteed emergency-room treatment when they need it, Verrilli said. People who have insurance are subsidizing them, he said.