By Michaela Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the federal health care reform law. Much of the controversy has centered around the individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to secure health care insurance coverage.
The Daily Journal’s Michaela Gibson Morris queried University of Mississippi adjunct law professor Katie Gilchrist about the historic oral arguments. The Jackson-based health care attorney is a partner in the Adams and Reese law firm.
Q: How important are the oral arguments to the Supreme Court justices’ ultimate rulings?
A. Oral arguments have typically played a more minor role in the eventual decision reached by the Supreme Court justices than the other parts of the appeals process (The court relies more heavily on legal briefs and its own independent research). In fact, it has been opined on more than one occasion by those most intimately acquainted with the court that oral argument almost never is the ultimate decision point for the court. What has been most intriguing to me about (last) week’s oral arguments is simply that, through the questions asked and comments made by the justices during the arguments, we have finally been given a glimpse into their thoughts on the issues before them.
Q: What stands out to you about the questions the justices asked this week?
A: In my opinion, there was nothing terribly shocking about the questions posed. It is notable, though, that this case was heard for six hours of argument – more than any other case in the last 45 years. The justices’ questioning on all four issues – but especially on the issue of the ultimate demise of the individual mandate – was very aggressive. The audio from all three days of argument is widely available online, and I strongly recommend listening to it. It is unquestionably history in the making.
Q: Which way do you think the justices are leaning on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the entire health care reform law? How quickly do you think we will know what they decide?
A. Most analysts seem to agree that the decision – whichever way it goes – will be made by a 5-4 vote. Generally that prediction would assume that Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote, although there is also some thought following the arguments this week that Chief Justice Roberts’ comments were less clearly anti-mandate than many expected. Overall, my thought is that there is some leaning toward a decision that the mandate will not stand, but that the bulk of the health reform law as a whole will remain in place. … There is significant commentary out since Wednesday that speculates the entire law may fall.
Regarding timing, it looks like we will know in June, before the court goes on recess. Interestingly, though, the court will know (Friday) after they have their preliminary vote. The news about that vote will probably be one of the most closely guarded secrets ever.