McGeorge School of Law

Jacobs, Sims Discuss Supreme Court Cases

January 26, 2012

Professors Leslie Jacobs and John Sims presented a mid-term review of the U.S Supreme Court’s 2011-12 docket to a room full of law students and faculty members on Jan. 23, 2012.

Both discussed in detail the “Obamacare” case, for which the Supreme Court has carved out a week in late March to hold oral arguments in perhaps its biggest case in a decade - the sweeping healthcare reform law championed by President Obama. Normally, a case only gets one hour of oral argument, but the court has allotted 5½ hours of arguments spread over three days, March 26-28, 2012.

The consolidated Supreme Court cases are National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, No. 11-398; and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400.

The case has sparked more than two dozen court challenges and four conflicting appellate decisions. Administration attorneys contend Congress was within its constitutional powers in requiring Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, a centerpiece of the law known as the individual mandate. The law’s opponents have argued that Congress overstepped its authority.

Jacobs described in detail the pros and cons on each side of the argument and noted strengths on both sides. Sims pointed to the apparent lack of severability in the law, which may place in jeopardy that court’s option of shooting down only minor provisions and leaving the rest of the law in place. Neither predicted a certain outcome and both expect a split court ruling.

Among other cases that the professors considered are the television indecency case, FCC v. Fox Television Stations that involves the "fleeting expletives" concept. It challenges the FCC’s power to fine broadcast networks for "f-bombs" and "wardrobe malfunctions." Jacobs also pointed to an interesting passport case involving the legislative power to require that U.S. passports of children born in Israel list the place of birth as Israel — thereby allowing Congress to override the executive branch’s foreign policy.