“OK, fellas, we’ve just finished three days listening to lawyers debate the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts announced when the nine justices met to discuss their decision.
“You mean, Obamacare,” said Justice Alito.
“Let’s try to avoid a political theater since courts are supposed to be unbiased,” Roberts responded.
“Pardon me, Mr. Chief Justice,” said Alito. “Twenty-six Republican attorneys general are asking us to kill it. Not a single Democrat. This is political.”
“Did any of you even listen to all those lawyers babbling?” asked Justice Thomas. “Total waste of time! Why can’t we just decide based on all that stuff the lawyers submit?”
“He speaks! You haven’t asked a single question in over six years, Justice Thomas. Oral argument is a tradition predating our country,” answered Justice Kennedy.
“These arguments never change anybody’s mind,” retorted Thomas. “But six hours over three days? Bush v. Gore was only one hour in December 2000 and that elected a president.”
“Justice Thomas has a point,” said Justice Scalia. “We haven’t devoted this much time to a case in, what, fifty years? The Miranda rights case in 1966 ran almost six hours. Even the case that resulted in Nixon’s resignation was only three hours.”
Roberts again: “We have four tough issues. First, is the timing right to hear this case? Most of the law hasn’t taken effect, and we generally avoid hypothetical cases.”
“Let’s do it now,” Alito said. “With an election coming up, this decision could shape the court for decades. Justices Ginsberg and Breyer should retire soon.”
“Objection!!!” Ginsberg and Breyer rejoined.
“Noted,” Roberts said. “Is kicking delaying this decision the right thing to do?”
“No,” said Kennedy, usually the swing vote. “The public will be outraged. Political gridlock will get worse.”
“Agreed,” said Justice Kagan, the newest justice and an Obama nominee.
Roberts returned to his agenda, “The second question is the biggie: Can the federal government require individuals and businesses with more than 50 employees to buy health insurance and penalize them if they don’t?”
“How is this mandate any different than a tax?” asked Justice Sotomayor, another Obama nominee. “All employees and businesses are required to Medicare tax that provides health care for seniors.”
“But this requires them to buy it from private insurance companies, not from the government. Therefore, it’s not a tax,” replied Scalia.
“Presidents Truman, Nixon, and Clinton proposed government sponsored universal health care and failed,” said Justice Breyer. “This idea requiring everyone to buy private insurance originated in conservative Republican think tanks in the 1990s after Clinton’s plan failed.”
“That was then,” said Alito. “People don’t want the government to mess with their health care.”
“I don’t get it,” inserted Ginsberg. “Only 45 percent of the nation is covered by employer health care. Another 40 percent have Medicare, Medicaid or military coverage, and 15 percent buy their own or have no coverage. Who are the 55 percent who oppose it? Most of the opposition must be people unaffected by this law.”
“This is an emotional political issue, not a logical financial one for most people,” responded Breyer, the most economically savvy justice. “Even the insurance industry supports this law because it will get another 30 million customers.”
“Politics and emotions are irrelevant. This is not a hard case. Congress overreached. No one has a right to health care under the Constitution,” offered Scalia.
“Agreed,” said Thomas.
“Our third big question is what to do with the rest of the law if we toss out the mandate,” said Roberts. “Some of the law is in effect already. Kids age 22 to 26 are covered under their parents’ insurance.”
“Exactly,” added Sotomayor. “Drug prices for seniors were cut $3 billion this year. Child immunizations and cancer screenings no longer require co-pays. Annual and lifetime caps are no longer legal, so people facing life threatening diseases can’t lose coverage. Unraveling the parts of this law already in effect will hurt a lot people.”
Kagan again: “People will be furious when they learn that their kids are no longer covered and insurers can terminate their policies.”
“That’s the price the country pays when Congress passes a bad law,” said Alito.
“Finally,” continued Roberts, “can Congress require states to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor or face reduced federal funding?”
“The Constitution gives no one, not even poor people, any right to health care,” repeated Scalia.
“I have a headache,” said Kennedy. “I feel a split decision coming. Should I start writing?”