The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided Wednesday over whether they would have to kill President Obama’s landmark health care overhaul outright if they decree that the measure requiring individuals to have insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.
If the so-called individual mandate is struck down, “then the rest of the act cannot stand,” the lawyer opposing the law on behalf of 26 states, Paul Clement, said as the nine justices began their third and final day of oral arguments on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, challenged Clement right out of the gate, asking why the court should wipe out the entire law rather than let lawmakers make the necessary adjustments.
“Why shouldn’t we let Congress do that?” Sotomayor said, stressing that lawmakers “should be fixing this.”
“No matter what you do in this case,” Clement said, “there is going to be something for Congress to do.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, questioned whether the court should be involved in “a wrecking job” rather than leave Congress “a salvage operation.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in one of the most politically charged cases in years. Attorneys representing 26 states, most led by Republican governors, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) will spar with Justice Department lawyers over what President Obama called his proudest achievement—health care reform.
Challengers will argue that requiring all Americans to buy health insurance is an illegal and unprecedented act of government overreach, while the Justice Department will counter that it’s a routine exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court will most likely hand down its decision in late June, right in the middle of the heated 2012 presidential election.