Health Care, Immigration Debated by SCOTUS, Too


Five Justices

President Donald Trump laid out his plans for the future of health care and immigration Tuesday night in his speech to Congress.

Though only five of the Supreme Court justices attended the speech, those divisive issues were on the minds of all the justices during oral arguments this week.

On health care, the justices considered a case involving the largest employer-sponsored health plan, which covers 8 million federal workers, Bloomberg BNA’s health care reporter Mary Anne Pazanowski said.

Through the plan, the “federal government pays about 72 percent, or more than $30 million, in premiums to insurers every year,” Mary Anne said. “Insurers, in turn, pay out tens of billions of dollars in benefits annually.”

The issue for the Supreme Court in No. 16-149, Coventry Health Care of Missouri v. Nevils, is whether those “insurers can recoup part of those benefits, which they say will keep premiums, and by extension taxes, from rising,” Mary Anne said.

The case tests “a Missouri law that prohibits insurers from going after damages or settlements federal employees recover from third parties who caused them injuries, when the insurer paid for the employee's medical treatment,” she said.

If that question seems a bit dry, don’t worry. The insurers’ attorney Miguel Estrada, who recently—and colorfully—took himself out of the running for solicitor general, added some entertainment with a gentle swipe at the Chief over his Obamacare ruling. You can read more about that exchange here.

On immigration, the justices considered what counts as criminal conduct that could subject an individual to deportation in No. 16-54, Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions.

“The case comes amid heightened tensions nationwide over immigration policy,” Bloomberg BNA’s Melissa Stanzione said.

Here, Juan Esquivel-Quintana, a 20-year-old lawful permanent resident, “was ordered deported after he was convicted under California law for sexual abuse of a minor,” Melissa said. “The conviction was based on consensual sex with his girlfriend,” who was 16.

“That conduct is legal in 43 states and the District of Columbia,” Melissa said.

“Although the court’s decision will immediately determine whether Esquivel-Quintana should be deported for an act that isn’t a crime in most states, it could have broader implications for other immigrants,” Melissa said. “The decision could affect how many people are deported, depending on how the court rules.” Read more here.

Staying on the theme of presidential priorities, the court also considered a case involving social media.

In No. 15-1194Packingham v. North Carolina, the justices seemed dubious of a “North Carolina law that bars registered sex offenders from using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter,” Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr said.

A “majority of the justices indicated they read the law as going too far in restricting First Amendment rights and cutting off services that have become almost indispensable to millions of Americans,” Greg said.

“Justice Elena Kagan said the measure would bar people from reading Twitter messages from their elected representatives, including President Donald Trump,” Greg said.

“Everybody uses Twitter,” Kagan said. “All 50 governors, all 100 senators, every member of the House has a Twitter account. So this has become a crucial—crucially important channel of political communication.”

Read more about the argument here.

Finally, the court considered “the relationship between harsh mandatory sentences and the authority of judges to make the punishment fit the crime,” Bloomberg BNA’s criminal law reporter Alisa Johnson wrote.

“Twenty-four year old Levon Dean Jr. was convicted of robbery and conspiracy,” Alisa said.
“Because he used a firearm during the crime, he was also sentenced under Section 924(c), which imposes consecutive mandatory minimum sentences when a firearm was involved in a drug crime or crime of violence,” she said. “Dean was subject to two mandatory sentences that added up to 30 years.”

Because of the severity of the mandatory minimum sentence, the trial judge wanted to impose a 1-day sentence for the underlying crime. But the law of his circuit “prohibited considering the mandatory minimums in sentencing for the underlying offenses,” Alisa said.

Several of the justices were critical of the limit on a judge’s discretion. Read why here in Alisa’s coverage of No. 15-9260, Dean v. United States.

That’s all for oral arguments this week. The court will resume arguments March 20.

Until then, you can follow along with all the latest Supreme Court news with a free trial to United States Law Week.