Posts Tagged ‘constitutionality’

DOMA Arguments Elicit Strong Reactions From Justices

Today, in the second of two cases involving same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the question of whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act is a constitutionally-acceptable expression of congressional preference for marriages between only one man and one woman.

As with yesterday’s argument over California’s Proposition 8, there is even a question of whether the case is properly before the court, because the federal government did not come to the statute’s defense. Rather, it was left to a bipartisan group of House members to hire outside counsel to defend the law before the court.

DOMA defines marriage as being between a man and a woman only. As a consequence, same-sex couples who are legally married in their particular state are denied over 1,000 federal benefits, including the right to file a joint tax return.

In this case, Edith Windsor, who married her female spouse in Canada, and then moved with her to New York, had a recognized marriage in New York. Yet when her spouse died, Windsor was stuck with a large estate tax bill from the IRS.

In the argument, Justice Kennedy, the potential swing vote, worried that DOMA may intrude too deeply in the states’ traditional role in defining and regulating marriage. Justice Ginsburg suggested that DOMA treats same-sex nuptials like a “skim-milk marriage.”

On the other hand, Justice Antonin Scalia chided the Justice Department for arguing that DOMA is unconstitutional yet continuing to enforce the law.

The implications for employers in all of this? Certaintly they would welcome consistency in how marriages are treated, especially if they have operations in more than state. If same-sex marriages are recognized throughout the country, then it should be easier for to administer spousal benefits of all kinds, including health insurance, family and medical leave, and other workplace benefits.

Otherwise, employers in different states will have to administer a patchwork of different benefits depending on the genders of the particular spouses involved.

Here is the audio and transcript for today’s argument.

Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional, Second Circuit Holds

In another victory for same-sex spouses, a federal appeals court today ruled unconstitutional the federal Defense of Marriage Act, finding that it denies same-sex couples equal protection of the laws.

The plaintiff, Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian, sued the federal government for charging her more than $363,000 in estate taxes after being denied the benefit of spousal deductions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision in a 2-1 majority ruling and determined that America’s gay population “has suffered a history of discrimination” similar to that faced by women in years past.

The litigation attracted a who’s-who of heavy hitters filing amicus briefs. Interestingy, the appeal was filed by something called the “Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives,” which has stepped in to defend the law since the Obama Administration refuses to do so.

The case doesn’t directly have a bearing on the treatment of same-sex couples in the workplace, but many employers have already moved past this debate and extended benefits regardless of the gender of an employee’s spouse. They realize it’s the right to think to do and makes good business sense also. Companies that develop a relationship of tolerance will be attractive to applicants.

Here’s the decision in full.

Health Care Mandate Is Constitutional, U.S. Supreme Court Holds

Congress can require Americans to purchase insurance or pay a fine, invoking its taxation powers under the constitution, a split U.S. Supreme Court ruled today.

The individual mandate was the central issue at stake in today’s rulings. Supporters contend it is needed to enlarge the insurance pool; otherwise insurance companies will refuse write policies for the sick. Opponents argue that the constitution does not permit the congress to require citizens to purchase a product that they don’t want.

In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Steven Roberts, the 5-4 majority ruled that whether the law is wise policy or not, it does not violate the constitution. Interestingly, the majority pegged its holding on Congress’ power to tax–and not its power to regulate interstate commerce.

“The most straightforward reading of the individual mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “But…the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. It is therefore necessary to turn to the Government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to ‘lay and collect taxes.'”

The court also ruled that Congress can offer the states additional funding if they agree to expand their Medicaid program for the poor. However, Congress cannot penalize states that choose not to participate by taking away their existing funding.


High Court Ruling Expected Tomorrow on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver its long anticipated decision on President Obama’s healthcare reform law tomorrow. Among other questions, the court will decide whether the law’s mandate that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine is constitutional.

Also at stake are whether Congress can require states to expand their Medicaid programs to take in more of the uninsured. If the court strikes down the mandate as unconstitutional, then the question is whether the remainder of the law can stand.

Whatever the court decides will have an impact on employers and employees, so stay tuned…

Employer-Provided Insurance Is Subplot in High Court Ruling

As the nation awaits the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s healthcare reform law,  employers know that there is more at stake in this controversy for them than simply whether the law is upheld or not.

That’s because under the current system, employers are the primary provider of health care insurance. Whether that remains the case may change depending on what the court decides.

What is indisputable is that the proportion of workers covered under employer plans is shrinking. In a survey released in April, the nonpartisan Employee Benefits Research Institute found that between 1997 and 2010, the percentage of workers offered health insurance by their employers decreased from 70.1 to 67.5 percent, and the percentage of workers covered by those plans decreased from 60.3 percent to 56.5 percent.

Some workers declined coverage because it is too expense. And workers whose employers do not offer health benefits are more likely to go without any insurance.

The court concluded that for now, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–the law on which the high court will decide–is the backup to employer-provided healthcare coverage.

While much of the controversy over the law has focused on the mandate for individuals to purchase insurance, it also requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers either to provide coverage or pay a penalty. Will this prompt some employers to drop their coverage and pay the fine, or do an endrun around the law by increasing the proprortion of part-time employees?

Stay tuned.

Justices Appear Split on Constitutionality of Health Care Individual Mandate

Is the health insurance market unlike any other in that everyone will be in it eventually? If so, can the federal government require everyone to purchase health insurance or pay a fine?

Or is what Congress is doing essentially creating new commerce–beyond its authority to regulate commerce?

Those questions were at the heart of today’s second day of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Cout on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal healthcare reform law.

Yesterday, there appeared to be consensus that the court  is not blocked from hearing the suit until the mandate is in effect and someone files a challenge over having to pay the fine. Today, there was no consenus on the individual. The court appeared to be split right down the middle on the question.

The court’s usual conservatives indicated the government has gone too far. “The federal government is not supposed to be a government that has all the powers; it’s supposed to be a government of limited powers,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “What-what is left? If the government can do this, what, what else can it not do?

Conversely, Justice Steven Breyer, who usually aligns with the court’s liberal bloc, said “I look back in history, and I see it seems pretty clear that if there are substantial effects on interstate commerce, Congress can act.”

Justice Elena Kagan: “The aggregate of all of these uninsured people are increasing the normal family premium, Congress says, by $1,000 a year. These people are in commerce. They are making decisions that are affecting the price that everybody pays for this service.

The law’s supporters held out some hope that Justices Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts might be persuadable. Kennedy wondered if the government does not “have a heavy burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution.”

Roberts, in questioning opposing counsel, acknowledged the government’s point that “we are all going to need some kind of health care; most of us will at some point.”

Oral arguments are not always predictive of how the court will ultimately rule. We should know the answer in late June.

Tomorrow’s argument concerns whether if the individual mandate is overturned, the rest of the law can be upheld, and whether Congress overreached in requring the states to expand Medicaid coverage.

Oral Argument Begins at Supreme Court on Health Care Reform Law

Employers have a lot at stake in the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations over the constitutionality of the health care reform law.

Today began an unprecedented three days of oral arguments on the law’s constitutionality. The heart of the dispute is whether Congress has the power, under the commerce clause, to require that everyone purchase health insurance or pay a fine.

As sponsors of group health coverage, employers have a huge stake in this debate.

Like the population at large, businesses are split on whether they want the law upheld or struck down.

Here’s an excellent article on business’ view of the law on the eve of the high court arguments.