U.S. Supreme Court

Liberals Appear 'Taken Aback, Angry' in Medicaid Arguments; Will Court Redefine Federal Power?


Justice Clarence Thomas continued his six-year streak of silence as arguments on the health care law wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.

Others were not so reluctant. “Lawyers call a lively group of judges a ‘hot bench,’ ” the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. “This one was scorching.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the justices considered whether Congress has overstepped its spending power by coercing states to expand Medicaid. According to the Wall Street Journal, tensions rose over three days of arguments. “By Wednesday afternoon, the court’s conservatives were questioning fundamental concepts of federal power that hadn’t come up for serious challenge at the court in decades,” the story says. “The audience of 400 people in the paneled courtroom—largely journalists, lawyers and politicians—knew it. The silence hung heavy. The liberals on the court appeared taken aback, angry.”

The Wall Street Journal was one of several publications that noted Justice Elena Kagan’s reaction to lawyer Paul Clement’s argument that the federal government was unconstitutionally coercive by increasing Medicaid funding to states in exchange for an expansion of the program. “Wow, wow. I’m offering you $10 million a year,” Kagan said, “and you are saying this is anything but a great choice?”

The Washington Post, the National Law Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and SCOTUSblog also have coverage. “Unless a closing oration by a top government lawyer stirs some real sympathy for the poor,” SCOTUSblog says, “the new health care law’s broad expansion of the Medicaid program that serves the needy may be sacrificed to a historic expression of judicial sympathy for states’ rights.”

The Washington Post began its story this way: “The Supreme Court closed an extraordinary three-day review of President Obama’s health-care law Wednesday, with its conservative majority signaling that it may be on the brink of a redefinition of the federal government’s power.”

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