Demonstrators pray outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the third day of oral
arguments over the constitutionality of Obama's healthcare law.
Picking up where they left off Tuesday, the conservatives said they thought a decision striking down the law's controversial individual mandate to purchase health insurance means the whole statute should fall with it.
The court’s conservatives sounded as though they had determined for themselves that the 2,700-page measure must be declared unconstitutional.
"One way or another, Congress will have to revisit it in toto," said Justice Antonin Scalia.
Agreeing, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it would be an "extreme proposition" to allow the various insurance regulations to stand after the mandate was struck down.
Meanwhile, the court's liberal justices argued for restraint. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court should do a "salvage job," not undertake a “wrecking operation." But she looked to be out-voted.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they shared the view of Scalia and Kennedy that the law should stand or fall in total. Along with Justice Clarence Thomas, they would have a majority to strike down the entire statute as unconstitutional.
An Obama administration lawyer, urging caution, said it would be "extraordinary" for the court to throw out the entire law. About 2.5 million young people under age 26 are on their parents' insurance now because of the new law. If it were struck down entirely, "2.5 million of them would be thrown off the insurance rolls," said Edwin Kneedler.
The administration indicated it was prepared to accept a ruling that some of the insurance reforms should fall if the mandate were struck down. For example, insurers would not be required to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But Kneedler, a deputy solicitor general, said the court should go no further.
But the court's conservatives said the law was passed as a package and must fall as a package.
The justices are scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to debate the law's Medicaid expansion.
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