(Reuters) - The Supreme Court has slated 5 1/2 hours for oral arguments early next year as it decides the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law, the centerpiece of his legislative agenda.
While this is longer than the total of one hour of arguments the court allows in most cases, it is hardly a record-breaker.
That honor may go to McCulloch v. Maryland, an 1819 case that stretched out for nine days and tested the balance between state and federal rights. More recently, marathon argument time has been granted to a handful of big cases, with some reaching 13 hours and spanning several days.
Here are some of the lengthiest oral arguments before the Supreme Court, which imposed a one-hour limit for most cases in 1970:
McCulloch v. Maryland
Argument length: 9 days in 1819 (hours unknown)
This fight over Congress’ power to charter banks evolved into a test of federal versus states’ rights. In a landmark decision, the court ruled that Congress had implied powers that are necessary to implement its express powers listed in the Constitution.
Brown v. Board of Education (I)
Argument length: 8.5 hours in 1952, 6.5 hours when the case was reargued in 1953.
The court considered the concept of separate but equal — whether state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white children violated the constitution. Brown, first argued in December 1952 and again one year later, combined five cases sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The high court in 1954 unanimously voted against race-based segregation.
Brown v. Board of Education (II)
Argument length: 13.25 hours in 1955
After the court found segregation in public education to be unconstitutional in 1954, the Supreme Court requested follow-up arguments to address how the decision should be implemented. The court’s 1955 opinion directed local school authorities and the district courts that first heard the cases to desegregate the schools “with all deliberate speed.”
South Carolina v. Katzenbach
Argument length: 7 hours in 1966
South Carolina challenged the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which barred states from using literacy tests to deny citizens the right to vote. South Carolina argued that the law infringed on the states’ right to govern elections. The Supreme Court upheld the act as a proper exercise of Congress’ power.
Miranda v. Arizona
Argument length: 6 hours in 1966
This case established the so-called Miranda rights — that police must inform a criminal defendant in custody of his right to a lawyer and to remain silent. The court heard arguments from 10 different attorneys in the case, which combined the appeals of four separate defendants.
Branzburg v. Hayes
Argument length: 6-1/2 hours in 1972
Reporter Paul Branzburg, who wrote a story about narcotics users in Kentucky, refused to testify before state grand juries to disclose his confidential sources. He argued that testifying would violate his First Amendment protections. Branzburg’s case was combined with the cases of two other journalists who refused to testify about their sources in stories about the Black Panthers’ militant group. The court, in a split 5-4 decision, ruled against news reporters.
Buckley v. Valeo
Argument length: 4 hours in 1975
To prevent corruption in political campaigns, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which set limits on the amount of money an individual could donate to a single campaign. New York Senator James Buckley, among others, sued to block the law, arguing that it violated the First Amendment. The court upheld the law’s limits on individual contributions, but struck down limitations on what campaigns or candidates themselves could spend.
The “Death Penalty Cases” of 1976
Argument length: 5-1/2 hours in 1976
Hearing five capital punishment cases, the Supreme Court considered whether the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The court concluded that the death sentence did not violate the constitution in extreme criminal cases where states’ sentencing procedures built in sufficient protections.
McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission
Argument length: 4 hours in 2003
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and others challenged the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which limited donations to political parties and restricted political advertising. The Supreme Court ruled that most of the provisions of the act did not violate the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of speech.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
Argument length: 5-1/2 hours
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s reforms meant to extend healthcare coverage to people and rein in the costs. At the center of the battle is whether Congress exceeded its powers by requiring all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, a provision known as the individual mandate. The 5-1/2 hour arguments will combine three cases.
Reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Eileen Daspin, David Storey and Eric Walsh