Supreme Court justices appeared divided Tuesday in a second day of arguments over the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care reforms, leaving the fate of the law still hanging.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, regarded as a swing vote in the court, peppered Solicitor General Donald Verrilli with questions about the most controversial part of the law -- the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.
The government contends that the Affordable Care Act is within Congress's powers to regulate interstate commerce, and denies the legal challenge by 26 states that it is an assault on individual liberties.
"Here the government says the individual has a duty, he must act -- and that's different," Kennedy said, quizzing Verrilli.
With the exception of Chief Justice John Roberts, who seemed more ambivalent, the court's conservative judges appeared to line up behind the view that the state was compelling commerce in requiring all individuals to buy health insurance.
An amendment in the US constitution prohibits people from being forced to buy products, but the more liberal justices on the nine-strong bench insisted that health care was different, and not like buying a car or broccoli.
Justice Steven Breyer seemed to imply that buying health care was different because "we all suffer from the cost of being sick."
But Antonin Scalia, a conservative, argued that "everybody has to buy food, therefore you can make people buy broccoli."
He also questioned what powers would be left to the states if the federal government were able to mandate a requirement to buy insurance. "What is left if the government can do this?" he asked.
The packed house included Attorney General Eric Holder and a host of other political luminaries from both sides of the aisle.
Verrilli defended the administration's position that the reforms, which expand health care coverage to 32 million Americans who are currently uninsured, fall within Congress's rights to regulate interstate commerce -- in this case health insurance -- and to enforce it with penalties.
Paul Clement, a former solicitor general, is arguing for 26 states who are challenging the law on the grounds that the so-called "individual mandate" -- requiring the purchase of insurance -- is an assault on personal freedoms guaranteed under the constitution.
Source: AFP American Edition