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Health Care / HEALTH CARE

Health Care Arguments Open With Tax Questions

photo of Maggie Fox
March 26, 2012

Supreme Court oral arguments about the health care law started out on a light note on Monday morning, The Wall Street Journal reports in a live blog.

The newspaper says Robert Long, a lawyer at Covington & Burling appointed by the Court to argue that the case cannot be tried yet, said a "pay first, litigate later" law makes it clear that the whole suit should be delayed until after the first person has been fined for failing to buy health insurance.

This is the focus of the first day of oral arguments – 90 minutes devoted to the question of whether the law’s provision to fine people who fail to buy health insurance amounts to a tax. If that’s the case, then under existing law any Supreme Court consideration of challenges must wait until that provision goes into effect in 2014, Long argued.

 

Long pointed to the law's provisions that any fine will be assessed and collected by the Internal Revenue Service. He said the government cannot pick and choose when to waive the Anti-Injunction Act, which requires taxpayers to wait until they’ve paid before they challenge a new tax.

"This assumes a lack of competency about the government, which I doubt,” Justice Elena Kagan, the former solicitor general for the Obama administration,said.

"Not all people who litigate against federal taxes are rational,” Long answered in a similar light vein. Later, the room erupted in laughter when Justice Kagan asked whether Long might have been straining his interpretation of the law a bit in his argument. The health reform law is not  "a model of clarity," Long answered.

USA Today reported that the justices seemed skeptical about Long's arguments. It quoted Justice Sonia Sotomayor as saying she counted at least four similar cases in which the high court had allowed such challenges before. 

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