March 28, 2012

Pingree, Schneider unsure how Supreme Court will rule on health law

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON Maine Attorney General William Schneider and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, have very different views on President Obama’s health-care law, but they agree on one thing: It’s tough to predict how the Supreme Court will rule on the landmark legislation.

Pingree, who represents Maine's 1st District, attended Wednesday morning's oral arguments, while Schneider, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, attended the afternoon session.

Pingree, a supporter of the law, said in an interview outside the Supreme Court building that she couldn't predict which way the court would rule.

"(I'm) not an expert on Supreme Court interpretation," she said.

Nonetheless, Pingree said it was valuable for her to watch how America's highest court scrutinizes the work done by her and other lawmakers.

“In Congress we think only about the actual making of the law, forgetting that they will be interpreted and that there are decisions that will be made down the road about we structure laws and how we do our work,” Pingree said in after the morning session.

“I thought it was very educational really to hear how the justices look at their job and how they compare this law to other laws.”

Pingree is one of a number of members of Congress who walked across the street this week to attend a portion of the three days of arguments over the health-care law.

She and Schneider passed each other inside the Supreme Court building, as Pingree left the morning session and Schneider arrived to attend the afternoon arguments.

Schneider isn't one of the lawyers arguing the case. But Maine is one of 26 states that signed on to the lawsuit against the health-care reform law, arguing that the law's mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Schneider said that it's traditional for Maine attorneys general to be on hand when the state is a party to a Supreme Court case.

“I think it’s important for the people of Maine to know that they’re a plaintiff in the suit and that they’re represented here by me,” Schneider said during an interview outside the court after the afternoon session.

Schneider is paying his expenses partly on his own and partly by using a Maine Attorney General's Office "settlement account," according to his office.

That account is not taxpayer funds, but money won through litigation such as consumer anti-trust cases, his office said.

The argument Schneider attended revolved around another aspect of the law: The requirement that states expand the Medicaid health care program for the poor.

Schneider believes that mandate, too, is unconstitutional.

Schneider said he was encouraged by the questions asked about the Medicaid expansion by some of the justices. They were “couching it in terms of an offer states can’t refuse” and probing about the penalty the Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services can impose if the states reject the Medicaid expansion, Schneider said.

“It left me feeling that they really are taking this question seriously, that there is certainly a chance that the court will find the Medicaid expansion unconstitutional,” Schneider said.

But Schneider agreed with Pingree that it’s difficult to interpret how the justices will rule based on what they ask during the oral arguments.

“It’s very hard to tell,” Schneider said. “You can’t judge from the questioning whether they are on your side or not. A lot times they will ask probing questions to try to define the issue.”

(Continued on page 2)

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