Monday, March 26, 2012

Supreme Court Hears First Day of Affordable Care Act Argument

Today, the United States Supreme Court began to hear arguments concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. According to news reports from the Court, today's arguments focused on whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear the case before the Act's punitive provisions have been utilized.

The ACA provides a penalty for persons who do not obtain health insurance. That is commonly known as the "mandate" provision. The law requires the individual to pay this penalty in his income tax filing. However, long ago, Congress passed the Anti-Injunction Act, which provides that courts may not invalidate a tax law before it has gone into effect and resulted in the collection of taxes under the questioned law. The issue before the Court is, whether because the enforcement mechanism is through the filing of income taxes, the Anti-Injunction Act applies to the ACA.

Neither the plaintiffs attacking the ACA nor the government sought to argue the application of the Anti-Injunction Act. The Court raised the issue sua sponte and assigned the briefing and argument to an experienced Washington appellate attorney.

The purpose of the Anti-Injunction Act to to prevent the interruption of tax revenues to the United States. That is why the law requires the monies to be paid before an attack on the tax is ripe for consideration. Because the payment in the ACA is a penalty and not primarily revenue collection, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will defer from deciding the case at this time based on lack of ripeness. In fact, Court watchers at the argument reported that the justices through their questioning seemed inclined to move forward to the merits.

Tomorrow and Wednesday will see further argument going to the substance of the disputes about the ACA.

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