Nightly News | November 14, 2011
WILLIAMS: Good evening.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: It is a very basic question and it goes right to the heart of the big fight we just went through over health care . Can Americans be forced to buy health insurance ? Did Congress have the power to pass such a thing? The Supreme Court announced today they're going to decide this. This is what the Supreme Court does, they decide what's allowable under the Constitution , and just taking on this case makes it the biggest in years with sweeping impact for all Americans potentially. It's where we begin tonight with our justice correspondent Pete Williams . Pete , good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Brian , a dramatic day here because the court agreed to wade into the legal battle over this far-reaching law. And it raises a question the court has never confronted before. Does Congress have the power to require virtually everyone to buy something? It's a huge change in federal law and a landmark in the Obama presidency.
President BARACK OBAMA: Health care should no longer be a privilege in this country.
Unidentified Man: No Obamacare!
P. WILLIAMS: But it touched off shouting matches at congressional town halls.
Group #1: No government health care !
Group #2: Nobody else, everybody in!
P. WILLIAMS: Tea party protesters took to the streets to condemn it.
Group #3: Kill the bill! Kill the bill!
P. WILLIAMS: And every Republican candidate for president is against it.
Former Governor MITT ROMNEY Obamacare is wrong. I'll repeal it. I'll get it done.
P. WILLIAMS: Opponents, including 26 states , say Congress went too far by requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance . The Constitution , they say, allows Congress to regulate the insurance market but not to order citizens to get into it in the first place .
Mr. JAY SEKULOW (Lawyer For Opponents): If we allow Congress to have the authority here, where does it stop? What is the position where the Congress oversteps its bounds if they can, in fact, do this constitutionally?
P. WILLIAMS: If Congress can do this, some lower court judges have said, it could require everyone to buy broccoli to stay healthy. But supporters of the law say what it really regulates isn't the insurance market, it's the market for health care , something they argue everyone eventually participates in.
Mr. DOUG GANSLER (Maryland Attorney General): Every American citizen is part of the health care system. It may not be today, it may not be next week, it may not be next month, but we're all mortal and we all have to -- we all need to see a doctor at some point.
P. WILLIAMS: What the law governs, supporters say, is how health care is paid for, something they say Congress clearly has the power to regulate. As for how this ideologically divided court might rule, legal experts say it might not be the usual 5-4 split. Some of the court's conservatives have been willing to uphold broad uses of federal power in the lives of individual citizens.
Mr. TOM GOLDSTEIN (Supreme Court Expert): It would shock me if any of the more liberal members of the Supreme Court voted to strike the statute down. But I would not be at all surprised to see two, maybe even three more conservative votes to uphold it.
P. WILLIAMS: The court will hear this case in late March. Two days of courtroom arguments spread over five and a half hours. That's a modern record. And then we'd expect a decision some time in late June in the middle
of the presidential campaign. Brian: Pete Williams at the court building in DC for us tonight. Pete , thanks.