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Blog Buzz: SCOTUS setback for Obama administration?

For the most part, bloggers agreed that Day 2 of the Supreme Court's oral arguments over the federal health-care law represented -- at the very least -- a setback for the Obama administration.

SCOTUS Blog's Lyle Denniston, a reporter who has covered the Supreme Court for 50 years, wrote:

“If Justice Anthony M. Kennedy can locate a limiting principle in the federal government’s defense of the new individual health insurance mandate, or can think of one on his own, the mandate may well survive. If he does, he may take Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and a majority along with him. But if he does not, the mandate is gone.  That is where Tuesday’s argument wound up — with Kennedy, after first displaying a very deep skepticism, leaving the impression that he might yet be the mandate’s savior.

Left-leaning Steve Benen, a writer for the Rachel Maddow blog, says “court watchers look to these arguments for hints, but there are no guarantees that justices who appeared to be leaning in one direction or another will necessarily rule that way.” He notes that a few reporters, who heard the Supreme Court hearing, agreed on some points:

“* The mandate has at least four votes (Ginsburg, Breyer*, Sotomayor, and Kagan).
* Solicitor General Don Verrilli, who argued the case for the government, was not at the top of his game today, and the word "choke" is being bandied about quite a bit.
* Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General who argued against the health care, was excellent.
* The two votes to watch are Roberts and Kennedy. Scalia, Thomas, and Alito do not appear to be in play, despite all of Scalia's previous opinions on Commerce Clause jurisprudence.
* The liberal justices were far more effective than Verrilli in making compelling arguments in defense of the law.”

Adam Serwer, a reporter at Mother Jones, called the second day of orals hearings a “disaster.

“Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. should be grateful to the Supreme Court for refusing to allow cameras in the courtroom, because his defense of Obamacare on Tuesday may go down as one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.

Stepping up to the podium, Verrilli stammered as he began his argument. He coughed, he cleared his throat, he took a drink of water. And that was before he even finished the first part of his argument. Sounding less like a world-class lawyer and more like a teenager giving an oral presentation for the first time, Verrilli delivered a rambling, apprehensive legal defense of liberalism's biggest domestic accomplishment since the 1960s—and one that may well have doubled as its eulogy...

If the law is upheld, it will be in spite of Verrilli's performance, not because of it.”

Right-leaning Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post sums it up: “To put it bluntly, it was a rotten day for Obamacare, but more importantly, also for the left, which tends to assume that legislation it likes must be constitutional.

“In perhaps the most telling moment, Kennedy said that allowing Congress to compel purchase of health care “changes the relationship between the individual and the government in a very fundamental way.” That, in a nutshell, is the challengers’ argument.”