Justices hold first hearing on health law

Day One of the Supreme Court arguments on the health reform law centered on whether it’s too soon to hear the case at all.

An 1860s law, the Anti-Injunction Act, says taxpayers may not challenge taxes until they become due. Or in the case of the reform law, until 2014, when people who refuse to buy health insurance must pay a penalty, as required under the Affordable Care Act.

But the justices appeared not to want to kick this momentous case down the road for another two years. Their questions to lawyers during the hearing suggested they were receptive to taking up the case now.

Prominent supporters and opponents of the law tend to agree with the justices that sooner is better than later for settling the issue. Political debate on the law has now gone on for years.

Tuesday will focus on the heart of the law, the individual mandate — a requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance.

Georgia is one of 26 states that is challenging the Affordable Care Act, saying both the mandate and the law’s Medicaid expansion are unconstitutional.

Outside the D.C. courtroom, hundreds of demonstrators let their views be heard. GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum made an appearance on the court steps, criticizing both “Obamacare’’ and his Republican rival Mitt Romney.

Santorum says the health care law that Romney helped implement as governor of Massachusetts was essentially a prototype for the federal law. Romney says that is not true and is himself a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, a New York Times/CBS News poll released Monday found that more Americans continue to disapprove of the federal health care law than support it, with a deep partisan divide underscoring their views.

The new poll, conducted last Wednesday through Sunday, finds that 36 percent of Americans approve of the health care law, while 47 percent are opposed.

Still, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March found that individual provisions of the bill remain popular with a majority of Americans.

Those popular features include tax credits for small firms to buy insurance; subsidies for individuals to purchase coverage; expansion of Medicaid; and guaranteed issue of a policy to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Here’s a transcript of Monday’s hearing. And a guide on Day One from Kaiser Health News.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the state Senate by a 36-19 vote passed a bill that would make abortion illegal in most cases five months after conception, but with some significant changes from the legislation that passed the House. Here’s the AJC’s report on the Senate vote.