In one of the most closely watched and politically charged cases in recent memory, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments over the constitutionality of President Obama's health-care reform law on Monday. The court heard 90 minutes of oral arguments focusing on whether it's premature for the 26 states challenging the law to sue, and will hear another four-and-a-half hours of debate over the course of the next two days. The main attraction comes Tuesday, when the court will train its eye on the law's most contentious provision, the individual mandate, which requires most Americans to buy health insurance. In the balance hangs the fate of America's health care system, as well as Obama's signature domestic policy achievement. Here, four takeaways from the first day's events:
1. The court won't punt
Court watchers are "almost unanimous" in the belief that the 26 states will be allowed to challenge the law's constitutionality, says Politico. The potential obstacle is the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867, which holds that citizens cannot challenge the legality of a tax until it's been collected. "ObamaCare" does impose a financial penalty on citizens who do not buy health insurance, but those fees won't be collected until the mandate goes into effect in 2014. Regardless, on Monday, both conservative and liberal justices "indicated skepticism" that the penalty is, strictly speaking, a tax, say Robert Barnes and N.C. Aizenman at The Washington Post — which would make the Anti-Injunction argument moot, all but ensuring that the court won't wait for the individual mandate to kick in before ruling.
2. Supporters and detractors are as fired up as ever
The line to get into the Supreme Court began forming on Friday morning, "as if a new iPad were about to go on sale," says Michael D. Shear at The New York Times. It eventually stretched around the block, and was accompanied by hundreds of marching demonstrators. Supporters of the law chanted, "Protect my health care," while opponents retorted, "We love the Constitution!" says Mark Sherman at The Associated Press. The law remains divisive, with 47 percent of Americans saying they disapprove of it, according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll. Only 36 percent of respondents said they approve of it.
3. The court instituted a media blackout
A lucky few scored a seat to Monday's arguments by waiting in line all weekend. But the rest of the world had to hear about the court's debate after the fact. The justices refuse to allow television cameras inside, and forbid members of the public from tweeting, blogging, or making phone calls when court is in session. "To so stringently limit access to such an important public proceeding makes no sense, especially in an age of such abundant and extraordinary communication tools," says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The court eventually released audio recordings and transcripts of the arguments, which did little to prevent the world from slowing to "predigital speeds," says Shear.
4. Santorum is using the trial to gleefully bash Romney
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took advantage of the spotlight on health care to jab at frontrunner Mitt Romney. Standing on the court's sweeping marble staircase, Santorum reiterated that Romney is "the worst candidate to go against Barack Obama" on health care, because Romney passed a state-wide individual mandate as governor of Massachusetts. "This was a disaster in Massachusetts and then he had the audacity to go out in 2009 and argue that Barack Obama follow his lead," Santorum said. "Unfortunately for the country, Obama did."