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Health care law faces Supreme Court

March 31st, 2012

The Supreme Court of the United States, although a coequal branch in the United States’ system of government, is often featured much less in media.  Its hearings are largely private and the justices tend to be more reserved than the politicians in Congress or the White House.

However, more recently with decisions like Citizens United they have become much more present in the media.  For instance now, the focus on the U.S. Supreme Court continues to grow as it makes decisions centering around juvenile justice, plea bargains and, perhaps most prominently, the Affordable Care Act.

Yet, even with these cases that have the power to drastically impact the American public, the results of such measures are often not fully recognized by society.  This may be in part because of the Supreme Court’s tradition of announcing decisions to major cases in the month of June.

Sara Schiavoni of John Carroll’s political science department elaborated on this phenomena. She said, “The Supreme Court strategically delivers its most important decisions all at once in June so that no one case gets all the media coverage, and in this term it is likely that everything will be drowned out by the health care decision.  This is particularly unfortunate because in this term there are a number of really important cases surrounding freedom of speech and defendants’ rights that are not likely to get a lot of attention.”

In regards to juvenile justice, the arguments surround harsh sentencing of young people in the United States.

In a 2005 decision, the Court ruled against a juvenile death penalty indicating it was in violation of the “cruel and unusual” clause in the constitution with respect to children.

In 2010, the Court also made the decision that sentencing a juvenile to life imprisonment without parole in the absence of a crime of murder, is also in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

While these decisions impacted dozens of people who were incarcerated at the time, a further concern still surrounds life sentences given to juveniles that have committed a worse degree of crimes.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg stressed after the 2010 ruling that sentencing a 14-year-old to life without parole is in essence making them a “throwaway person.” Therefore, based on sentiments like Ginsberg’s, the court is revisiting the constitutional implications of severe sentencing with regard to youths.

Although no decision has yet been rendered, it is an issue that warrants attention.

Although the Supreme Court is still in discussion over the issues surrounding juvenile justice, they have reached a 5-4 verdict in favor of greater regulation in plea bargain negotiations.

In the American justice system, over 90 percent of all felony cases never go to trial but are instead decided by plea bargains.

This statistic seemingly indicates the magnitude of such a ruling of the Supreme Court, which was very controversial with just one vote making the difference.

Schiavoni said, “The importance of this case was evidenced by [Justice Antonin] Scalia reading his opinion dissenting opinion from the bench, which had to do with the implications of this decision in a practical sense. Requiring effective counsel during plea negotiations will significantly change bargaining and may have an impact on the people already in the system.”

In terms of the Affordable Care Act, which is being argued before the Supreme Court this week, tensions are high and not just with the justices.

The issue at hand is the constitutionality surrounding an individual mandate, which requires every citizen to purchase insurance.  This provision does allow for some exceptions, but is still the subject of the courts.

There are countless individuals that want to see firsthand what it is going on inside the white marble walls.  Those that want in go so far as to pay others like Michael Hardy, who gets paid to wait in line for the tickets.

Outside of the courtroom, there are protesters attempting to make their point heard.

For instance, those that associate themselves with the conservative tea party movement, like Mark Falzon, are not happy.

“I’m here [outside the Supreme Court] because I’m extremely disturbed of the direction the government is going in, and our last hope and salvation right now is the Supreme Court, although I’m not very confident in them that they’ll do the right thing with this Obamacare baloney,” Falzon told The Carroll News. “You have a 2,700 page Marxist, wet dream wish list this bill is, it’s not just health care. Who do these people think they’re kidding?”

Others find comfort in the provisions of the act and hope it will be upheld.

Regardless of public sentiment, the fate of ACA is in the hands of nine justices, who will likely make a decision by June.