WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court concluded a marathon public debate on health care Wednesday with justices signaling an ideological divide that could topple some or all of the the sweeping reform bill championed by President Barack Obama.
On the third day of oral arguments on legal challenges to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the justices tackled the question of what would happen if they ruled that the heart of the law, the individual mandate that is its key funding mechanism, was unconstitutional.
The six hours of hearings over three days provided an extended public view of the high court in action on one of the most controversial issues of the day, touching on legal concepts involving federal and state powers, individual rights and legislative intent.
At stake is the survival of the signature legislation of Obama's presidency as he seeks re-election in November: the health care reform law that requires most Americans to have health coverage as part of a systemic overhaul intended to lower costs.
The justices looked at procedural issues Monday and then tackled the heart of the law Tuesday, the constitutionality of the individual mandate that requires people to get health coverage or pay a fine.
At issue Wednesday morning was whether all the law's 450 or so provisions would have to be scrapped if the individual mandate were found unconstitutional.
A separate session Wednesday afternoon looked at whether states would be "coerced" by the federal government to expand their share of Medicaid costs and administration by the risk of losing federal funding if they refuse.
To CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the questioning by justices Wednesday signaled they are ready to invalidate the individual mandate, a step he said could put the entire law in jeopardy.
"I think the individual mandate is gone, based on the questioning," Toobin said after the morning session. "It sure looks like there are at least five votes to get rid of ... the individual mandate."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration remained confident its signature health care law is constitutional.
Anyone who tries to predict the outcome of the case based on the questions justices asked during this week's arguments "is not a very good student of the Supreme Court," Earnest told reporters, adding that Justice Department lawyers faced similar tough questions from conservative judges in lower courts that later upheld the law "in at least a couple of these cases."
However, some of the attorneys general of states opposing the health care law said the three days of arguments showed the justices had serious concerns about the law.
"What we've heard over the last few days is a growing concern from our Supreme Court justices about, perhaps, the federal government has gone too far at the expense of individual liberty and our states' rights," said South Dakota Attorney General Marty J. Jackley.
Even though the health care law's individual mandate appeared to be on shaky legal ground, few on the court seemed eager to take the drastic step of throwing out the rest of the legislation.
"There are so many things in this act that are unquestionably OK," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, citing many provisions not directly related to market reforms such as Native American health care. "Why make Congress redo those? I mean it's a question of whether we say everything you do is no good, now start from scratch."
Added Justice Elena Kagan, "Half a loaf is better than no loaf," meaning some provisions would survive.
However, lawyer Paul Clement, arguing for opponents of the law, told the justices that removing such a central provision of the law as the individual mandate would leave "sort of a hollow shell" that never would have passed Congress in such a diminished form.
In addition, conservative justices appeared in no mood to pick and choose what to uphold in the rest of the law.
"You want us to go through 2,700 pages" of the law? asked Justice Antonin Scalia. "Is this not totally unrealistic ... to go through one by one and decide each one?"
Justice Anthony Kennedy said he was reluctant to take on this "awesome exercise of judicial power," at the expense of congressional discretion.
This week's hearings were among the most politically charged and closely watched in years, with dueling protests and news conferences outside the court building every day on what is likely to be a central issue of the November presidential election.
Overheard on CNN.com: Readers react to hearings Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, a staunch opponent of the health care law, said Wednesday the entire measure falls apart if the Supreme Court invalidates the individual mandate.
"The individual mandate would be the funding stream that makes all of the rest of the act work," Bachmann said. If it gets ruled unconstitutional, then who pays for all the other provisions in the 2,700-page bill? she asked.
Supporters argued that under legal precedent