Day 2: Department of Health and Human Services, et al. vs. Florida
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's most conservative justices and its crucial swing voter sharply questioned the government's right to force people to buy health insurance Tuesday, leaving the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's signature achievement in doubt.
Immediately and throughout the extraordinary two-hour hearing on the federal health care law, the justices raised scenarios that amounted to a big what if.
If Congress can impose an "individual mandate" for health insurance, could it compel Americans to purchase cell phones, eat broccoli or obtain burial insurance?
"You don't know if you're going to need a heart transplant or if you ever will. So, there's a market there. In some extent, we all participate in it," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "So, can the government require you to buy a cell phone because that would facilitate responding when you need emergency services? You can just dial 911 no matter where you are."
Justice Antonin Scalia picked up the thread. "Everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli," he said, adding, "If the government can do this, what else can it not do?"