The import of Supreme Court decisions usually can't be fully felt until years after they're made, but there's one early sign that the case deciding the fate of the Affordable Care Act will be a doozy. The time given the two sides to present their oral arguments to the court is six hours, spread out over the next three days, making for the lengthiest oral argument allotment since 1967.
“The fact that they have allotted a full six hours of argument is indicative of how important the court itself deems it to be,” Edwin Meese III, a former attorney general for Ronald Reagan, told USAToday. According to the AP, since 1970 arguments in Supreme Court cases usually get only one hour; before that the norm was two hours. But there are a few notables exceptions for weightier cases, like Citizens United in 2009 (two hours and 33 minutes), which opened the way for Super PACs, and United States v. Nixon in 1974 (three hours), which forced the president to turn over incriminating evidence and eventually resign. One has to look all the way back to the eight hours argued in a 1967 ruling on natural gas rates in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico to find a longer time.
The length of oral arguments in today's case may have something to do with another record it set. More than 130 amicus briefs -- third parties volunteering information on the case to the court -- have been filed for the Obamacare case, which is "a modern record, surpassing two affirmative-action cases in 2003" according to USAToday. Part of the six hours is allotted to these "friends of the court" to give their arguments.