It was another "worrisome" day for President Obama's expansive health-care law. Supreme Court justices debated whether the entire law should be struck down if the individual mandate — which requires most Americans to purchase health insurance, and is considered the linchpin that holds together ObamaCare's numerous moving parts — is found to be unconstitutional. (The court's conservative justices have already expressed deep skepticism about the mandate's constitutionality.) Justices also discussed a provision that would make Medicaid, the federal health-insurance program for the poor and disabled, available to more people. Americans will have to wait until the summer for the court's crucial decision. In the meantime, here are five takeaways from the day's events:
1. The justices are torn over throwing out all of ObamaCare
The justices are "contemplating throwing out other portions of the law — and maybe the whole thing — if they rule against the mandate," says Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. Justice Antonin Scalia, in particular, said the entire law must go if its "heart" is ripped out. Meanwhile, liberal justices like Elena Kagan said some elements should be preserved: "Half a loaf is better than no loaf." Yet her opponents on the bench appeared reluctant to pick and choose which elements of ObamaCare should remain in place. Justice Anthony Kennedy said doing so would be an "awesome exercise of judicial power" that undercuts Congress' authority.
2. Some justices think it would be crazy to reread the bill
Scalia added that having the court go through the law's 2,700 pages line by line to decide what to keep would be "totally unrealistic." It's possible the justices have convinced themselves that the individual mandate is necessary, now that they realize "just how hard it would be" to figure out what to do if the mandate is thrown out, says Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog.
3. The Medicaid expansion might be in danger
The 26 states challenging ObamaCare contend that the federal government's expansion of Medicaid is forcing them to blow their budgets on health care for the poor since states are obliged to pay part of the cost. Liberals on the court were baffled that the Medicaid provision was even being questioned, given that states can technically opt out of the program if they wish. (Not to mention that the federal government will cover 90 percent of the tab.) But at least a couple of conservatives seemed sympathetic to the states' argument — that the government "has them over a barrel," say Robert Barnes and N.C. Aizenman at The Washington Post. Medicaid is "so large" that states cannot "forgo federal funds and still provide medical care for the poor."
4. The White House's lawyer got slammed
The government's top lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, received withering criticism for what many saw as a subpar defense of the individual mandate. His performance will "go down as one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court," says Adam Serwer at Mother Jones. "If the law is upheld, it will be in spite of Verrilli's performance, not because of it." The White House, however, came to Verrilli's defense, saying that he "ably and skillfully represented" the government's position. On the other hand, the lawyer for the opposing side, Paul Clement, won rave reviews. He's "a god," Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog tells Politico. Clement "gave the argument of his life."
5. Clarence Thomas still isn't talking
Justice Clarence Thomas distinguished himself over the course of the epic trial by not uttering a single word. In fact, it's been six years since the taciturn justice has said anything during oral arguments. While his colleagues appeared to relish the back and forth of debate, he has said the arguments make the court "look like Family Feud."
Sources: ABC News, CNN, Mother Jones, The New Republic, The New York Times (2), Politico, SCOTUSblog, USA Today (2), The Washington Post