The United States Supreme Court began hearing arguments today concerning the constitutionality of the Affordable Care act. This is the beginning of a 3 day process where the 9 justices will hear arguments related to whether the act violates constitutional protections.
Today's 90 minute oral arguments concerned whether or not the Supreme Court could even hear the case.
At the center of the arguments was the definition of a tax as it pertained to Supreme Court jurisdiction and whether the penalty for non-compliance constitutes one . If the court finds it is and agrees with the 4th circuit court's lower ruling that the penalty is a tax based on using the IRS as a collection mechanism then all further arguments could cease.
That end would come about because under the Tax Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 or AIA, a challenge to taxation can't be heard until the tax has actually been levied. Since the Affordable Care Act's mandatory compliance provisions don't come into play till 2014, the challenge would have to wait till the 2015 tax filing season when the first penalties had been assessed.
Arguing that the AIA was applicable to the case were Gregory Katsas Former Bush Administration justice department official and Robert A. Long former assistant to the United States Solicitor General . Arguing the federal Government's position that the penalty is not a tax was U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
The Tax Anti-Injunction Act came about to prevent plaintiffs in a federal tax case from receiving benefits derived from not paying the assessment while the case was ongoing. Instead the tax is expected to be collected when assessed with plaintiffs then filing for refund. Suit can then be filed if the IRS denies the refund which would provide the necessary foundation to bring a challenge to the tax law itself.
Tuesday's scheduled oral arguments will consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate itself. Wednesday morning's oral arguments are centered around whether the rest of the Affordable Care Act is legally viable if the mandate is stuck down.
The final arguments are scheduled to be heard on Wednesday afternoon and concern the challenge made by 26 states to the act's Medicaid provision. This part of the Affordable Care Act would force expansion of the state run Medicaid programs to individuals not currently covered by the program. The state's argument claims the provision would negatively impact budgets and amount to an debilitating federal mandate.