Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Can You Name the Supreme Court Justices?

Maybe you can. Maybe you can't (I'm not sure I can), but either way these nine people are about to dramatically impact the future of health care in this country.  That's because the decision regarding the constitutionality of the recently passed health care bill will be handed down on Thursday, and no one, not even the President or House and Senate leaders, have any idea what will happen.  I don't either, so don't ask. In fact, I'm not a lawyer so I can't even make an educated guess.

The question at issue is whether a mandate to purchase health insurance is constitutional.  As the oft-forgotten third branch of government, the Supreme Court gets to decide these things.  Their role is to interpret, as best and as independently as they can, whether a specific contested provision of law is in keeping with Constitutional principles.  The most important word in that last sentence is "independently." The founding fathers went to great lengths to protect the judiciary from undue influence from other branches of government.

At the same time, the founding fathers worked to balance independence with the need to connect the Judiciary to our democratic process.  This means there's clearly a political component to the decision as well, which boils down to this: those leading the health care reform effort traded the prohibition on not covering pre-existing conditions with the mandate to purchase insurance.  In other words, those concerned about a requirement to provide coverage for some of the least healthy members of the population were given the benefit of having more people buy insurance.  If the mandate is struck down, the wildly popular "pre-existing condition" clause goes down as well.

Either way, members of Congress and the Administration will need to deal with the aftermath of the decision.  If it's deemed unconstitutional there will either be efforts to solve the problem legislatively or it will be used as an enormous campaign issue (or both).  If it's deemed constitutional, you better believe there will be additional efforts in the legislature to pass a repeal.  Washington, D.C. will be hot this summer, both politically and temperature-wise. Stay tuned.

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