SG Verrilli on the importance of the first day of Obamacare oral arguments

May 2nd, 2014

Solicitor General Verrilli gave these comments in an interview about the significance of the first day of the Obamacare oral arguments. This is consistent with what I wrote in Unprecedented. The most important element of argument was convincing the Court, and the Chief in particular, that there was no mandate, but in fact a separate tax on not having insurance.

Q. I want to start with the Supreme Court case that had to do with something called the Affordable Care Act. Some observers were immediately critical of your performance when you argued that case. But then three months later the justices did exactly what you asked them to do. So looking back two years later, what are your thoughts?

The case was argued on a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But the most important day of the three was the first day, when we were arguing what to the whole world looked like a very dry, abstruse question about whether a statute called The Anti-Injunction Act (26 U.S.C. § 7421(a)) precluded federal courts from hearing this case on the grounds that it was a challenge to a tax. But the reason I thought that first day was so important was not so much because of the act itself. (I realized early on that the Court was going to be OK with concluding that the Anti-Injunction Act wasn’t a bar to hearing the case now.) It was because the key to winning this case on the tax power argument was to convince the Court to take the requirement in the law that said you had to have insurance, and treat it separately from the requirement in the law that said you’d pay a tax if you didn’t have insurance. So I decided that first day to spend a lot of my time arguing for that separation. And if you look at the chief justice’s opinion you’ll see, I think, that that actually was the fulcrum on which this case turned. 

You can watch the video here.