The attorney general of South Carolina told reporters Monday that the Supreme Court debate over the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act is a life and death struggle, not about health care but about the Constitution.
"This is not about hurting people. This is not about health care," said Attorney General Alan Wilson. "As attorneys general our job is to live and die by the Constitution." Wilson is one of a group of Republican attorneys general who have challenged the constitutionality of a financial charge in the law, to be assessed against any uncovered person who does not purchase health care insurance. The controversy over the provision, usually referred to as the law's "individual mandate," has gone from a simmer to a rage since the legislation was debated in Congress and finally passed by both houses and signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. Opposition to "ObamaCare" largely fueled the Tea Party movement in 2010 and contributed the election of a Republican House of Representatives in that year's congressional elections.
In Monday's opening arguments, justices challenged the Obama administration's characterization of the fee imposed as a consequence of not purchasing health insurance. The administration claims that the authority is rooted in the taxing power of Congress, while the mechanism for enforcing the charge is not a revenue-raising measure, though it will be assessed under the tax code and collected by the Internal Revenue Service. Labeling the fee a tax could delay a decision on its constitutionality, since the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act forbids a judicial restraint on the assessment or collection of a tax before its effective date.
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Illustration: This artist rendering shows Paul Clement speaking in front of the Supreme Court in Washington,, March 27, 2012, as the court continued hearing arguments on the health care law signed by President Barack Obama: AP Images