(WASHINGTON) — Hearings will get underway Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court for one of the most eagerly anticipated cases to reach the high court in decades.
Justices will be determining the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance reform law that President Obama muscled through Congress and signed two years ago this month.
Bringing suits against it are 26 states, four individuals and a small business group who say Congress over-reached by requiring everyone in the country who can afford it to purchase health insurance if it’s not provided by an employer.
Cynthia Magnuson with the National Federation of Independent Business, one of the groups fighting the law, says: “This is the first time in the history of our country that the government has ever forced individuals to enter a marketplace.”
But backers of the law say Congress has the power because the health care system crosses state lines.
“Clearly, Congress does have the constitutional authority as part of this interstate commerce provision to regulate how health care is paid for,” says Ron Pollack, who leads Families USA, a liberal group that has pushed for universal health coverage for three decades.
“Everybody needs health care, at some point in their lives — whether it’s at birth, death or often in between,” he says.
But opponents like Magnuson question what that has to do with them.
“If the argument can be made about the health care market, that it is special and that it is different and that everyone will need it, it can be made about anything,” she says.
Opponents are asking the high court to rule that Congress exceeded its power under the Commerce Clause, but there are several issues justices have chosen to weigh.
Over three successive days, the court will hear a total of six hours of oral arguments — an extraordinary amount of time for the modern Supreme Court, which apparently hasn’t spent as much time on one issue since 1967.
First, the court will hear arguments on whether the issue should be dealt with now or later when all aspects of the law have taken effect. Then, on Tuesday, there will be an in-depth discussion on the individual mandate. Finally, on Wednesday, justices will question lawyers about whether the entire law should be struck down if only part of it is found unconstitutional. They’ll also hear a claim that an expansion of Medicaid — to cover more families — violates states rights.
A decision, which isn’t expected for months, will likely come in the heat of the presidential election. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll finds most Americans — 52 percent — oppose the health care reform law, and two-thirds say either the individual mandate or the entire law should either be tossed out.
Pollack says he isn’t worried about the court ruling against him.
“I’ll tell you, the biggest hurdle that needs to be climbed is the November elections,” he says.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
David Rose, CNN
Rafael Romo and Patrick Gillespie, CNN