Supreme Court justices expected to meet Friday for preliminary vote: report


Demonstrators for and against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act march and chant in outside the U.S. Supreme Court Building on March 26, 2012 in Washington, DC. Today the high court, which has set aside six hours over three days, will hear arguments over the constitutionality of the act.


Chip Somodevilla

The historic US Supreme Court debate over national healthcare now moves behind closed doors after days of riveting public debate in Washington, bringing the ideological differences between judges to the forefront, reported the Associated Press.

The divided court reflects a similarly confused public opinion on Obama's landmark initiative in America, with recent polls citing anywhere from 47 to 62 percent of the public against, while a recent Suffolk poll found that a roughly equal 30 percent believe the law should either be repealed or modified; only 20 percent said it should be left alone. 

The final decision on whether or not Obama's law is unconstitutional, as 26 US states are arguing, is expected in June. The ruling stands to change the way nearly every American pays for and receives health care, said AP

The court's liberal justices appeared to favor upholding the law, at least in part, while conservative justices questioned the government's right to mandate and penalize the purchase of health insurance -- the individual mandate. 

More from GlobalPost: Supreme Court debates health care without individual mandate

Justice Anthony Kennedy, seen as the court's ideological wild card, said the hotly debated individual mandate would amount to "changing the relation of the individual to the government," warning that such a move is a "heavy burden," according to AP

The four Democratic-appointed justices, meanwhile, were more clearly supportive of the law but would still need the vote of at least one of the court's five Republican-appointed justices.

Of these, justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito seemed more inclined to find it unconstitutional, while the silent Justice Clarence Thomas is not likely to support the motion based on past votes, said AP.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another Republican appointee, nodded to both sides of the debate. AP described his position as one that left "a murkier impression" than other justices. 

The Supreme Court hearings, with their subtext of individual rights -- a debate hardwired into American politics -- have attracted massive attention. Some people were camping outside overnight to save themselves a place in the courtroom, according to The Economist. There have also been sizeable gatherings held outside the court during days of public debate.

The justices are expected to meet privately on Friday and hold a preliminary vote, according to Reuters, after which they will start writing their separate opinions. 

The judges also heard arguments related to the extension of Medicaid, a public-health provision for the poor. Some states say the policy is forced upon them by the federal government.