The New York Times called the opening issue in this week's oral arguments on the constitutionality of the federal health care law an "appetizer" -- whether a 19th century law bars Supreme Court jurisdiction over the question of the act's individual mandate until the requirement actually takes effect. The Obama administration initially argued that the law was such a bar but abandoned that argument on appeal. The Court therefore appointed an outside lawyer to argue the point. Observers of this morning's argument generally agreed that the Justices appeared ready to dispense with the jurisdictional argument and get on with deciding the main question. Lyle Denniston's report at ScotusBlog is typical:
[A]n argument that at times seemed almost to bog down in the dense complexity of the tax code pointed toward a refusal to bar the lawsuits that had challenged the mandate and had put its survival before the Court this week. One of the telltale signs of that sentiment was that not one Justice, and no lawyer at the lectern, said that it would be premature and a contradiction of the Court’s tradition against deciding constitutional issues prematurely for the Court to rule promptly on the mandate’s validity.