WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) - Here is a snapshot of the scene inside and outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the third and final day of arguments over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.
* DAY THREE: The Supreme Court finished its third and final day of hearings in the challenge to the Obama-sponsored healthcare law with two sessions. The morning session ran the scheduled 90 minutes and the afternoon session ran 84 minutes - 24 minutes past the scheduled time.
* LEGAL QUESTIONS: Whether, if the mandate that most Americans buy insurance or face a penalty is found to violate the U.S. Constitution, the entire law must fall; and whether Congress has the authority to require states to expand eligibility under Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides healthcare for the poor. The law would extend Medicaid eligibility to individuals with income up to 133 percent of the U.S. poverty level.
* WHO ARGUED: In the morning session, Paul Clement of Bancroft PLLC argued on behalf of the 26 states challenging the law and seeking to have it struck down in its entirety. Edwin Kneedler, deputy U.S. solicitor general argued on behalf of the Obama administration and took the position that a couple of other provisions of the healthcare law could fall if the mandate is thrown out. H. Bartow Farr of Farr and Taranto argued the rest of the law could stand without the mandate.In the afternoon session on whether the expansion of the Medicaid program by Congress was proper, Clement argued again for the states and Donald Verrilli, U.S. solicitor general, argued for the Obama administration.
* A HIGHLIGHT INSIDE: Justice Anthony Kennedy, who could be the swing vote to uphold or strike down the healthcare law, posited a tough question during the arguments about unintended catastrophic consequences to the health insurance industry if the rest of the law is upheld even as the individual mandate is struck down. “By reason of this court, we would have a new regime that Congress did not provide for, did not consider. That, it seems to me, can be argued at least to be a more extreme exercise of judicial power than to strike, than striking the whole.”
* INSIDE THE COURTROOM: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Republican presidential candidate Representative Michelle Bachmann, Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius all attended the arguments on Wednesday.
* THE LOWDOWN OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE: As the final day of oral arguments arrived, the crowd of supporters and protesters was much smaller than the previous two days. One opponent of the law held a small prayer session on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court and across the street from the U.S. Capitol. Some who favored the law packed up and left just after the oral arguments got under way.
* THE DAY‘S QUOTE “FOR”: “The Congress struggled with the issue of how to deal with this profound problem of 40 million people without healthcare for many years, and it made a judgment, and its judgment is one that is, I think, in conformity with lots of experts thought, was the best complex of options to handle this problem. ... That this was a judgment of policy, that democratically accountable branches of this government made by their best lights, and I would encourage this court to respect that judgment,” Verrilli said.
* THE DAY‘S QUOTE “AGAINST”: “I certainly appreciate what the solicitor general says, that when you support a policy, you think that the policy spreads the blessings of liberty. But I would respectfully suggest that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not,” Clement said.
* UP NEXT: If the justices follow their usual practice after oral arguments, they would meet on Friday in a private conference room off the chambers of Chief Justice John Roberts and take a preliminary vote on the case. They then begin the process of drafting opinions on the distinct legal issues presented. A ruling is likely by late June when the justices traditionally recess for the summer.
* HOW TO HEAR OR SEE THE ARGUMENTS: The Supreme Court posted the audio and transcript of the arguments on its website. The morning session can be found here: here and the afternoon session can be found here: here. (Additional reporting by Ian Simpson and Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Howard Goller and Will Dunham)