Before the Supreme Court gets to the meat of the health care challenge – the issue of whether Congress had the authority to impose an individual coverage mandate – the Court must first wrestle with an issue none of the parties wanted it to address: whether the challenge can be heard at all.
Today, the first of three days the Court has dedicated to hearing oral arguments on several issues involved in the health care challenge, the Court takes up the Anti-Injunction Act. That law provides that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax may be maintained in any court by any person.”
In 90 minutes of oral arguments today, the justices will consider whether that law applies to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – most specifically, whether the penalty imposed on individuals who do not purchase health care coverage amounts to a tax.
If the court finds that the law applies, the Court must also decide whether it is a jurisdictional bar to bringing the health care challenge altogether, or whether it is simple a defense which can be raised by the government – which abandoned that argument earlier in the litigation. If the Court rules that it is the former, that would bar challenges to the law until at least 2015, after the law has been fully implemented and penalties have begun to be assessed.
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