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Inside the Boiler Room: The Health Care Debate

NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams joins Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro to discuss the anticipated time frame for the Supreme Court to hear the case regarding health care reform.


Transcribed by NBC's Jordan Fraiser.


DOMENICO MONTANARO: Alright Mark, well we have another question from DaNoid, another loyal commenter and he says -- I don't know what my blog handle would be anyway, but a, -- "What is the anticipated timeframe for the Supreme Court to hear the case regarding health care reform and what can either side do to accelerate or delay a review by the Supremes?"

MARK MURRAY: Wow, that's a great question, and in fact for more information on that we're going to go to our justice correspondent Pete Williams who knows everything that you need to know about the U.S. Supreme Court, Pete take it away.

NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT PETE WILLIAMS: Well, first we don't know whether the Supreme Court will take up the health care case, though it seems very likely it will.  If it does, it probably would not be aruged until late February, because the court's oral argument calendar is pretty much filled up until then. Now, in a complicated case like this, the court's decision would probably come at the very end of the term, that would be the last week of June. So far, none of the parties in these health care cases have asked the court to put this on a fast track - not the Obama Administration, not the states or business groups who are challenging the law. So we'll assume it would happen on the kind of schedule that I just mentioned.  Now I suppose we have to consider the possibility that the Supreme Court might actually take this case and then decide that it's too soon to get to the crux of the matter -- whether it's unconstituional to require virtually all Americans to buy health insurance.  Some lower courts have said any such challenge would have to wait until that provision actually kicks in, in 2014. But the Justice Department and the opponents of the law will urge the court not to put that off and decide the big question and those procedural issues all at once. 

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well thanks Pete, we really appreciate that.  You know, Mark, I mean it really is an important distinction, the fact that we have a lot of time to until this election, health care has been a real, you know, big issue and the administration had a decision to make on whether or not they would do this now, wait until next year.  Supreme Court takes it up-- what do you think winds up happening here?

MARK MURRAY: You know Domenico, I actually think this is a savvy move by the Justice Department and the Obama Administration, so even if they end up losing this fight, so say the Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision, the Robert's Court knocks down, … they hold the hearings this term but then they have their decision some June of 2012.  Well the Robert's Court knocks it down, well then there's a decision really to fire up the Democratic base.  We've already seen after the Citizens United decision, the Democrats don't like this Robert's Court and so the Obama Administration could actually kind of turn this into getting their folks fired up.  On the flipside, if somehow the Obama people end up winning this, then that's actually a shot in their arm. So in a way, you could actually look at it, it's win-win.  Now of course, it would be a huge blow to President Obama's historical legacy, for this to go down, but at least short-term politics this could be a win-win situation.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well it could be, but the other part of this though, you know, I know there was one election law blog post which made this point that Obama could run against the Robert's Court again, but does that appeal to independents or moderates to say, you know, look at the Supreme Court, this was a wrong decision, it made a bad--you know, I think there might be a lot of people who would look at it as whining, and they would think you know, yes it would fire up the base, it might help with that, but there's going to be some damage control that the administration would need to do if they are to lose this.  But if they were to win a couple of months before, Obama could say, well let's not even talk about this anymore guys, it's settled law.

MARK MURRAY: Right.  Well look it's going to be a great story on top of everything.  It's going to be a story we're going to be following, it's certainly one Pete's going to be following too.