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Federal government requests additional time for oral argument in health care reform case

The federal government on Friday requested additional time for oral argument [brief, PDF] before the US Supreme Court to argue that the minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590; JURIST backgrounder], which requires almost every US citizen to obtain health insurance by 2014 or face a tax penalty, is constitutional. The government requested an additional 30 minutes, which would bring the total time allotted for oral argument to six hours. The government is defending [JURIST report] the health care minimum coverage requirement by attempting to keep the focus of the argument on health care reform as a whole [SCOTUSblog report], rather than on the specific minimum coverage provision. Arguments are scheduled for March 26–28.

The court granted certiorari to rule on health care reform law [JURIST report] in three separate cases, originally reserving five-and-half-hours for oral argument on the issue. The court agreed to hear two hours of arguments on the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate issue in Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida [docket; cert. petition, PDF]. The court will consider Issue 1, which asks, "whether Congress had the power under Article I of the Constitution to enact the minimum coverage provision." The court also directed parties to brief and argue the question of whether the challenge to PPACA is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act [26 USC § 7421(a)], reserving one hour for argument on that issue. The court consolidated the cases of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services [docket; cert. petition, PDF] and will hear 90 minutes of oral argument on the question of whether the individual mandate provision can be severed from the remainder of the act. Finally, the court will hear one hour of oral argument on the question of Medicaid expansion—Issue 1 in Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services: "Does Congress exceed its enumerated powers and violate basic principles of federalism when it coerces States into accepting onerous conditions that it could not impose directly by threatening to withhold all federal funding under the single largest grant-in-aid program...?" All three cases that the court agreed to hear arose out of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled in August that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but severable [JURIST report], upholding the rest of the law.

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