The Supreme Court opened three days of historic oral arguments on the fate of President Obama’s health care law by skeptically questioning whether an 1867 law should bar them from even considering whether the government can require Americans to purchase health insurance.

At the beginning of those arguments Monday morning, justices on the court’s liberal and conservative wings seemed doubtful that the law, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, would serve as a roadblock to deciding the constitutionality of one of the Obama administration’s signature accomplishments. That law generally requires people to pay a tax before they challenge it in court.

The arguments had little to do with the core constitutional question – whether Congress can force people to buy health insurance – that has made the health care challenge one of the most-watched high court cases in a generation. Instead, the justices focused on a little-known tax law and pointedly questioned whether it would bar challenges such as this one, or whether the health law’s penalty for not buying insurance should be considered a tax at all.

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