IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Justice predicts high court will judge health bill

Justice Stephen Breyer is predicting the Supreme Court will one day pass judgment on this year's health care overhaul.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Justice Stephen Breyer predicted Thursday that the Supreme Court will one day pass judgment on this year's health care overhaul.

Breyer told a congressional panel that the massive health care law, like most major federal legislation, is a good candidate for high court review.

More than a dozen Republican attorneys general in several states are determined to challenge the law in federal court, arguing that its requirement that Americans get health insurance is unconstitutional.

Breyer said the court's relatively light caseload in recent years will soon be a thing of the past.

"I'd predict that three, four years from today, no one's going to ask us again why we have so few cases," Breyer said at a hearing on the court's budget before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

Justice Clarence Thomas said at the same hearing that the court's caseload, a third less than it was 20 years ago, depends in large part on what is happening in Congress. "Until recently, there hasn't been comprehensive legislation of the kind that would fill our docket," Thomas said.

The court still deals regularly with aspects of a 36-year-old federal law on retirement and health benefits as well as a mid-1990s statute that is designed to speed appeals in death penalty cases.

Lawmakers also quizzed the justices about allowing cameras in the courtroom.

Breyer has been much more open to televising court proceedings than others, including Thomas. Americans' understanding of the court would increase if they could see it in action more easily, Breyer said.

But he said the justices also have serious concerns about things being taken out of context and having televised high court hearings used to try to open criminal trials to television cameras. He said juror and witness security must be taken into account.

Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., the subcommittee chairman, said he worries that commentators might use court coverage to launch broadsides against the justices. "Did you hear Breyer? What a jerk. Did you hear Thomas?" Serrano said.

Thomas, who does not ask questions at court arguments, piped up at that point. "You mean, didn't hear me," Thomas said.