U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Controversial Case

U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Controversial Healthcare 'Case of the Century' Beginning Monday

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in what some legal pundits are calling the case of the century when the Justices are asked to determine the constitutionality of The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. The primary issue in this case is the determination of how federalism should work. The decision in this case might very well be the most controversial since Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954 which held that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal, which paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.

The main issue is that pursuant to the U.S. Constitution the federal government's powers in enacting laws is limited to the categories delineated under the Constitution and any laws not provided
for in this list are deemed to be unconstitutional. So the question presented is where in the Constitution does it provide for the enactment of the President's health care reform law? The Obama administration argues that the power comes from the Commerce Clause, which provides that "The Congress shall have the power...to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states..."

The Court that will decide this case is a first ever amalgamation of jurists for a number of reasons. There are six male and three female justices. Six are Roman Catholic and three are Jewish. There is one African American, one Latina and two Italian Americans. Five Justices were appointed by Republican Presidents and four by Democratic Presidents.

How significant of a case is this? Historically, in the early nineteenth century the Court did not review written briefs but relied entirely upon oral arguments which would typically last two or three days. In 1849, oral arguments were limited to two hours per side, which was reduced to one hour per side in 1925 and in 1970 was limited to thirty minutes per side.

The notable exceptions to these time limitations, post 1970, were U.S. v. Nixon, which allotted three hours,  the Pentagon Papers case of NY Times v. U.S., which was a two hour argument heard on a Saturday due to the exigent nature of the case and Bush v. Gore which was ninety minutes.

The longest cases argued before the Court in the recent past include the 1966 cases of Miranda v. Arizona that established the now famous Miranda warnings, which lasted six hours and South Carolina v. Katzenbach which upheld the Voting Rights Act and lasted seven hours.

The U.S. Supreme Court considers this case to be so significant that it has allotted six hours, featuring six different lawyers, to be argued over three days, which will make it the longest Supreme Court oral argument in almost half a century.

As an aside, the longest argued case in modern times appears to be the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education I, which lasted eight and a half hours in 1952, which was reargued in 1953 at over six and a half hours, and Brown v. Board of Education II, argued in 1955 covering the span of approximately thirteen hours and fifteen minutes.

The Court should render a decision by June so it will be interesting to read the reasoning of the Court. A number of prognosticators are predicting a 5-4 decision. The only thing that remains less clear is whether it will be to uphold the statute, strike down the statute or strike it down it part and uphold the balance.