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SCOTUS Momentus

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Health care and Energy were the big stories this week in Washington, DC. The three-days of arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States (which we, in the Twitter-verse, refer to as SCOTUS) appeared to have reversed the conventional wisdom of how the Court would rule.

Prior to the oral arguments the media cognoscenti were pretty sure the Court would uphold the Constitutionality of the individual mandate and thus the entirety of the Affordable Care Act.

Just as a reminder, an appellate court - which the Supreme Court generally is - is not like a trial court where the judge sits and mostly listens except to rule on motions and admonish the audience to be quiet. During sessions like Tuesday and Wednesday the Justices ask questions, interrupt the attorneys (and each other), and pose, as Tevya sang in If I Were a Rich Man, "questions that would cross a Rabbi's eyes" all of which the attorneys for each side are supposed to dodge, answer, and/or parry.

After hearing the two days of arguments on Obamacare itself (remember the first day was discussing whether the Court had the authority to take the case up before April 15, 2015) the mood of the Court-watchers changed 180 degrees.

According to them the Justices seemed genuinely troubled by the whole question of the individual mandate and, having expressed their concern about that some wondered aloud whether, if the mandate is struck down as Unconstitutional, doesn't that invalidate the rest of the law as well?

The third issue the Court took up was whether the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare represented Unconstitutional coercion on the part of the Federal government in that it ties the Federal part of Medicaid funding to the States' adoption of new rules which greatly expand eligibility.

In this one, according to Amy Howe, writing in her column, the Liberal Justices appeared to raise the better issues and ask the more more eye-crossing hypothetical questions, so it is quite possible the court will rule one way on the mandate question and another on the Medicaid issue.

I have never been in the Court when they were in session. But I have been inside the building. Years ago I made the point that if you walk through the Capitol building right across the street, you will often see signs outside hearing rooms that say, "Quiet, Please."

In the Supreme Court (at least back in the day) there was a sign just outside the Chamber which read, "Silence."

That, I mentioned at the time, is all you need to know about how people who have to stand for re-election act toward the public and how people who are appointed for life act.

According to Richard Wolf's excellent backgrounder in USA Today, the nine members of the Supreme Court will probably hold a preliminary vote as early as today, but

"That initial decision may be altered as drafts of majority and dissenting opinions are written, circulated and rewritten, often many times. It might even be reversed during the lengthy writing process if one or more justices switch sides."

The ruling isn't expected to be released until late June and, until then, you can be certain of one thing: It won't leak.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Two excellent links. One to the Rich Wolf USA Today look at what happens now, and to Amy Howe's piece on the Medicaid issue.

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