Health care law's fate rests with justices

Attorney Paul Clement leaves the Supreme Court
Paul Clement, a lawyer for 26 states seeking to have the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act tossed out in its entirety, leaves the Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012, at the end of arguments regarding the health care law signed by President Obama.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - After three days of historic debate at the Supreme Court, supporters and opponents of President Obama's health care law can only sit and wait.

The justices are expected to announce their decision in June.

With the majority of the court appearing ready to strike down the heart of the health care law - the requirement that everyone get health insurance - the question debated Wednesday was whether the entire law should go if that requirement does.

The conservative justices, and moderate swing justice Anthony Kennedy, suggested if the mandate was gone, the whole thing should be scrapped.

Complete coverage: Health care law debate

"When have we ever really struck down what was the main purpose of the act, and left the rest in effect?" asked Justice Antonin Scalia.

The typically blunt Scalia suggested it would be better if Congress started with a clean slate, instead of the court deciding which of the law's other provisions could stand. And he joked that reading the 2,700 page law would violate a constitutional amendment: cruel and unusual punishment.

"What happened to the Eighth Amendment?" he asked. "You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?" The remark was met with laughter.

Liberal justices, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, pushed to save the rest of the massive health care law.

"Why shouldn't we say it's a choice between a wrecking operation, which (is) what you are requesting, or a salvage job? And the more conservative approach would be salvage rather than throwing out everything."

The Obama administration concedes that without the mandate, popular provisions like banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions would be doomed.

Going into these hearings there were a lot of people, particularly a lot of supporters, who believed this would be an easy case - that this court was very unlikely to strike down the individual mandate. But it is clear after these three days, that was just wishful thinking.

This is a really complicated, complex case. And it does appear, right now, anyway, that there is a majority willing to strike down not only the requirement that we all buy health insurance, but perhaps, the entire law. We'll know for sure by the end of June.

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News' chief legal correspondent and based in Washington, D.C.