On the first day of oral argument, the Supreme Court heard one and a half hours of oral argument on the jurisdictional issue of whether the federal Anti-Injunction Act is relevant to the Affordable Care Act and if so, does the Court have jurisdiction. The Anti-Injunction Act prohibits the Courts from striking down tax laws before they take effect.
The court weighed the question of whether now is the time to make any decision at all.
Attorneys argued both ways on the importance of this issue. One side said the Anti-Injunction Act as a mere technicality the Court must dismiss before moving to the larger issues in the case. Others argued that the fact the Court is devoting 90 minutes of oral argument to the issue shows the Court considers it significant.
The 4th Circuit Court found that the penalty for not buying health insurance is essentially a tax and therefore courts cannot hear the case until after 2015, when the first taxes are imposed.
Only an Atlanta appeals court, which heard the Florida challenge, struck down any part of the law. It found an individual mandate to buy health insurance unconstitutional but upheld the rest of the law.
The Anti-Injunction Act was passed to prevent Americans who did not want to pay their taxes from simply suing and benefiting from the delay, regardless of whether they had a decent claim. The act says: "Taxes are the life-blood of government, and their prompt and certain availability an imperious need." It requires citizens to pay up first and sue later for a refund.
If the court finds that the fine imposed by the Affordable Care Act is a tax and not a penalty, the Anti-Injunction Act could prevent the court from deciding the case. The government fueled the argument that it is a tax when it decided to require citizens to report on their income tax return whether they have health insurance.
90-minutes of Argument:
40 minutes: Gregory Katsas, Arguing all challenges are forbidden under Anti-Injunction Act
30 minutes: Arguing for the government is U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli
20 minutes: 26 states & National Federation of Independent Business (Gregory Katsas/Michael Carvin)