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Mock Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Federal Health Reform

— The fate of health care reform will be in the balance next week, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on the Affordable Care Act.

Aired 3/23/12 on KPBS News.

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on the Affordable Care Act, students at Cal Western School of Law take matters into their own hands.

Students at California Western School of Law took their roles seriously. Michael Federici, as Justice Alito, argued that the affordable care act would give Congress unlimited powers.
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Above: Students at California Western School of Law took their roles seriously. Michael Federici, as Justice Alito, argued that the affordable care act would give Congress unlimited powers.

But a mock supreme court at San Diego’s California Western School of Law has already ruled on the case.

In a second floor classroom, the student judges had their game faces on as they filed in and took their places at a conference table. Each one had thoroughly researched the legal decisions of the justice they are portraying. They came ready to weigh in with a carefully reasoned argument on the new healthcare law that the actual judges might make.

You might say the student playing Justice Clarence Thomas took his role a little too far. Thomas is known for never speaking in the court’s public sessions. At this crucial conference, Thomas isn’t even showing up.

Nonetheless, once the other justices arrived, the conference began with Chief Justice Roberts, played by second-year law school student Jonathan Fuller.

"Good afternoon, everyone," he said. "We are here today to hear the case 11398, Department of Health & Human Services versus the state of Florida. To start, to be honest, I’m sort of torn in this case. If I side with the petitioner, it will drastically alter the outer boundaries of the Commerce Clause. But on the other hand, we have to face the reality that healthcare insurance is a unique commodity. Healthcare is quickly becoming less affordable for more and more Americans."

Fuller went onto to summarize the core arguments in this case.

The federal government, the petitioner, says the mandate to buy insurance is needed to help reign in healthcare costs. But Fuller said the respondent, the state of Florida, made a good point: the mandate goes beyond the powers granted to Congress in the Constitution.

"So the only way I could see siding with the petitioner," Fuller concluded, "is if we either carve out an exception for healthcare, or we create a new strict bright line test, that would make it practically impossible for Congress to be able to compel citizens to buy a private commodity. So, at this time, I would side with the respondent, but if you guys like the idea of a test, I would like to hear some of your opinions on that."

Justice Scalia, played by Amanda Griffith, chimed in next.

"I additionally would side with respondent, for other reasons," Griffith said. "I find that the minimum coverage position is a constitutional usurption of state sovereignty."

Amanda Griffith, playing Justice Scalia, said the federal mandate to buy insurance violated state sovereignty.
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Above: Amanda Griffith, playing Justice Scalia, said the federal mandate to buy insurance violated state sovereignty.

One by one, the justices offered their legal opinions. The conservative judges found the individual mandate to be unconstitutional. But the liberals, like Justice Kagan, played by Nicole Adkison, argued healthcare is a unique commodity.

"Everybody’s going to have to need it at some point," Adkison told her colleagues. "And this act is seeking to decrease the burden that our citizens and our government is facing."

After all of the judges spoke, a heated discussion began. The back and forth continued for some time, until Justice Kennedy, played by Joanna Schneider, broke in.

"The rest of the court is pretty set in their ideas. And at this point, it’s really the chief justice and myself who are sort of torn," she pointed out.

Schneider said it all came down to not giving Congress unlimited powers to regulate commerce. But, she was ready to compromise.

"Personally, I would be willing to agree with the petitioner in this case, just as long as there is a bright line rule," Scheider said. And so, if there’s some sort of rule we can impose just applying to healthcare in some way…"

"And so we’re going to be doing Bush v. Gore all over again," interrupted Justice Alito, known as Michael Federici in real life.

After some more discussion, time finally ran out.

Ultimately, the mock Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of the government, provided an exception is carved out for healthcare.

California Western Professor Glenn Smith said his students brought up the correct legal and policy issues the court has to grapple with.

"But they also showed the human dynamics that the court will really face," Smith said. "It’s very likely that there will be four justices on each side, and that it will come down to Justice Kennedy.

And if Smith had to bet on the outcome?

"I would say that the court will, 5 to 4, invalidate the individual mandate, they’ll say it’s unconstitutional, but I sure would like not have to bet more than about 50 cents," he said.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing the case on Monday. A decision is expected sometime this fall.

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