Analysis (Updated 12:31 p.m.)
When Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., commented at the end of Monday’s first day of hearings on the health care law, “We’ll continue argument on this case tomorrow,” it seemed to have a secondary meaning even if he did not intend it. The comments and questions of the Justices during the 89-minute exchange left the distinct impression that they are prepared to rule on the constitutionality of the mandate that individuals must buy health insurance, and not push the issue off into the future. The exact route they would take was a bit uncertain, but their skepticism about taking a pass now was clear.
That did not mean, of course, that they would ultimately uphold the mandate. That is tomorow’s question. But an argument that at times seemed almost to bog down in the dense complexity of the tax code pointed toward a refusal to bar the lawsuits that had challenged the mandate and had put it before the Court this week. One of the telltale signs of that sentiment was that not one Justice, and no lawyer at the lectern, said that it would be premature and a contradiction of the Court’s tradition against deciding constitutional issues prematurely for the Court to rule promptly on the mandate’s validity.