Court Deliberations on Health Care Law Move Behind Closed Doors

Members of the Supreme Court are likely to gather behind closed doors on Friday and cast a secret, preliminary vote that will kick off perhaps three months of deliberations on the fate of President Obama’s federal health care law.

“The outcome will shape [Chief Justice John] Roberts’s own legacy, influence President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects and potentially deepen the partisan gulf that is already dividing the country,” a Bloomberg article said. The outcome will also focus attention on the high court, which has been ideologically split on some of its biggest rulings.

“Not since 2000, when the court resolved the Bush v. Gore dispute over Florida election returns that sealed George W. Bush’s election as president, has a Supreme Court case drawn so much attention,” stated an Associated Press report.

A decision could rest in the hands of two Republican-appointed justices, Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts (photo above). With fellow conservatives, they asked questions during oral arguments  that were harshly skeptical of the constitutionality of a central provision of the law, requiring most Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

Some news reports about the oral arguments, however, noted past instances when a final opinion bore little resemblance to the tone of questions asked during oral arguments. “In any event, justices’ questions at arguments do not always foretell their positions,” the AP summed up.

That was a viewpoint White House spokesman Josh Earnest tried to drive home after the oral arguments wrapped up Wednesday. “Anyone who thinks they can predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case based on the questions of the justices … is not a very good student of the Supreme Court,” he asserted, according to Politico.

In the Iowa State Daily, meanwhile, Michael Belding wrote a commentary headlined, “Everyone needs to leave the Supreme Court alone as it considers arguments.”

If the Obama administration ultimately loses its case, a New York Times article said, Obama could run for re-election “squarely against the Supreme Court,” fashioning himself as “a modern-day Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and trying to persuade voters that “justices are in the pocket of Republicans.”

In an interview with NYC Radio,  Jeff Shesol, author of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court, said he did not think Obama would try to exploit  a loss at the Supreme Court on the campaign trail.

“I think the president is wise enough to see that there’s no margin in it. You might get certain parts of your base energized by attacking a right wing or corporate Supreme Court or whatever label you want to put on it, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Shesol said.

In the final afternoon of oral arguments, the high court heard debate over the health care law’s expansion of Medicaid. For a transcript and audio, click here.

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