Justices Expected To Reject Postponing Ruling On Healthcare Reform Challenge

The Supreme Court's hearing Monday on whether it is proper for the justices to rule on the Affordable Care Act at this time generated extensive television, print and online coverage. Media analysts last night and this morning largely agree that the case will almost certainly move forward, as both the Administration and the plaintiffs have requested. Much of the coverage last night and this morning focuses on the legal arguments made yesterday, as opposed to the likely political repercussions of the court's eventual ruling. However, the CBS Evening News (3/26, lead story, 4:15, Pelley) and the New York Times (3/27, A17, Sussman, Cooper, Phillips, Subscription Publication) both have reports on their new poll that found 47% of the public disapproves of the ACA as a whole, while 36% approves. The poll also found large majorities support individual aspects of the ACA, including the ban on denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, which had the support of 85% of respondents. NBC Nightly News (3/26, lead story, 3:40, Williams) reported, "We begin tonight with a basic question for everybody: Can Congress force you to buy health insurance? More than that, can they charge you a penalty if you choose not to? That question of course is...at the crux of the health plan that may be known forever as 'Obamacare.'" NBC (Williams) added, "Outside the court, passionate demonstrations, mostly supporting the law. ... Rick Santorum even showed up to underscore the political stakes." Scott Pelley, at the opening of the CBS Evening News (3/26, lead story, 4:15), reported that the court will be answering the question: "Can the Federal government force you to buy something whether you want it or not?" On ABC World News (3/26, story 2, 2:55), Dianne Sawyer noted that "some provisions of the healthcare law have already gone into effect. For instance, two and a half million young people have been added to their parent's health insurance," and it is now "illegal for children under the age of 19 to be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions." Sawyer asked, "What will happen to the changes already in place?" Terry Moran replied, "If the court decides to strike down that individual mandate...they could decide that the whole law has to go," or "the court could just strike down...that individual mandate," but then "the insurance industry would rebel," and "would lobby to get the rest of it changed." USA Today (3/27, Heath, Wolf) reports the Supreme Court "opened three days of historic oral arguments on the fate of President Obama's health care law by skeptically questioning whether an 1867 law should bar them from even considering whether the government can require Americans to purchase health insurance." According to USA Today, "Justices on the court's liberal and conservative wings seemed doubtful that the law, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, would serve as a roadblock to deciding the constitutionality of one of the Obama administration's signature accomplishments." The AP (3/27, Sherman) reports that the justices "signaled...they are ready to confront without delay the keep-or-kill questions at the heart of challenges to President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul. Virtually every American will be affected by the outcome, due this summer in the heat of the election campaign." The AP adds, "Outside the packed courtroom, marching and singing demonstrators on both sides -- including doctors in white coats, a Republican presidential candidate and even a brass quartet -- voiced their eagerness for the court to either uphold or throw out the largest expansion in the nation's social safety net since Medicare was enacted in 1965." Bloomberg News (3/26, Stohr) said Justices Breyer and Ginsburg "suggested they didn't view [the] 1867 law as barring them from ruling immediately on the law's requirement that Americans either get insurance or pay a penalty. The 1867 law blocks suits over taxes that haven't been imposed, and Ginsburg questioned whether health-care penalties would be taxes. 'This is not a revenue-raising measure,' Ginsburg said. 'If it's successful, nobody will pay the penalty and there will be no revenue to raise.'" Politico (3/27, Gerstein, Brown) reported that Justice Sotomayor "said she found at least four similar cases in which the Supreme Court had allowed such types of challenges, and questioned whether the penalty for not obtaining insurance was really meant to be a tax or an inducement for people to purchase coverage." According to USA Today (3/27, Heath, Wolf), "Some liberal justices indicated they were puzzled by 26 states' contention they would be harmed by the law's expansion of Medicaid. Although Washington would pay for those newly eligible, states would have to contribute to help those already eligible. 'That does seem odd, to suggest that the state is being injured because people who could show up tomorrow with or without this law will show up in greater numbers,' Justice Elena Kagan said."