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Which Justices Are Key in Health Law Ruling? Publications Disagree

Posted Mar 30, 2012 7:01 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Which justice will be crucial in deciding whether the health care law’s insurance mandate is constitutional?

It’s Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, according to the New York Times. “He is the administration’s “best hope” for a fifth vote, the story says. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. aimed his closing remarks at the justice, whose “touchstone and guiding principle” is liberty. According to Verrilli, unsinsured people with chronic health conditions will be allowed “to enjoy the blessings of liberty” as a result of the health care law.

Kennedy expressed one view of liberty in an opinion last year that says liberty is protected by limiting federal power, the story says. But Kennedy also has a second view of liberty, according to Helen Knowles, who has written a book on the justice. Kennedy believes individual responsibility is a part of liberty. “He thinks the government has the power to ensure that the responsible exercise of liberty be done in an educated manner," Knowles told the Times.

Reuters offers another view of the justice who is the swing voter: It's Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “On the most crucial question—whether the individual insurance requirement is valid—it appeared that Roberts, a conservative appointed to the court by former President George W. Bush, could easily cast the deciding vote,” the story says. In arguments, he expressed worry about limits on congressional power, but also about limits on court intervention.

The Reuters story also says Kennedy is a potential swing vote.

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