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The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear arguments in March 2012 regarding President Obama’s health care overhaul. This decision comes on the heels of the president’s announcement of executive power in legislation relating to the FDA, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and R&D partnerships.
This decision sets up an election-year showdown over the White House’s main domestic policy achievement. The Supreme Court will have more than enough time to render a decision in late June—a little over four months prior to the 2012 election.
The justices announced they will weigh an almost unprecedented five-and-a-half hours of arguments from lawyers on the constitutionality of a provision at the heart of the law and three related questions about the act. The central provision in question is the requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty.
In 2003, the court allotted a lengthy hearing for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform—that hearing lasted approximately four hours.
The 2010 health care overhaul law aims to extend insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, through an expansion of Medicaid, the requirement that individuals buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty and other measures. The court’s ruling could decide the law’s fate, but the justices left themselves an opening to defer a decision if they choose, by requesting arguments on one lower court’s ruling that a decision must wait until 2015, when one of the law’s many deferred provisions takes effect.
A White House spokesman said, We are pleased that the court has agreed to hear this case.
Communications director Dan Pfeiffer stated We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) called the law an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American. In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law’s mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance, and I hope the Supreme Court will do the same.
McConnell’s statement is somewhat hyperbolic based on a March 2010 Gallup poll.
Only one of four federal appeals courts that considered the health care overhaul has struck down even a part of the law. The Atlanta federal appeals court said Congress exceeded its power under the Constitution in adopting the mandate. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati and Washington DC upheld the entire law.
Decisions did not fall solely under party lines as one might expect. Clinton-appointed Judge Frank Hull joined with a Republican colleague in striking down the mandate. Cincinnati, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a Bush appointee, was the deciding vote in upholding the law. In the Capital, Senior Judge Laurence Silberman, named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, and Senior Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee, voted together to uphold the law.
The case could become the high court’s most significant and political ruling since its 5-4 decision in the BushL v. Gore case, which effectively sealed George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential election victory.
The justices will also determine whether the rest of the law can take effect even if the central mandate is held unconstitutional. The law’s opponents say the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be overturned if the individual mandate falls.
The administration counters that most of the law still could function, but says requirements that insurers cover anyone and not set higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions are inextricably linked with the mandate and shouldn’t remain in place without it.
The court also will look at the expansion of the joint federal-state Medicaid program that provides health care to poorer Americans. Florida and 25 other states say the law goes too far in coercing them into participating by threatening a cutoff of federal money. The states contend vast expansion of the joint federal-state Medicaid program requirement that employers offer health insurance violate the Constitution. No appeals court agrees.
Many prominent Supreme Court lawyers believe the law will be upheld by a lopsided vote, with Republican and Democratic appointees ruling in its favor. Others predict a close outcome. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican who sometimes joins his four Democratic colleagues, may hold the deciding vote.
The Supreme court chose the Atlanta court’s ruling as the primary review case.
Two justices, conservative Clarence Thomas and liberal Elena Kagan, were asked by advocacy groups to withdraw from the case. Both justices will participate in the hearings. The court’s practice is for justices who are staying out of a case to say so when the case is accepted and no one has announced a recusal.
Thomas’s wife, Virginia, has worked for a group that has advocated against the health care overhaul. Kagan served as solicitor general in the Obama administration when the law was being formulated.
Mad Mike’s America thanks AP.
What are the consequences to Americans if the the president’s health care legislation is overturned?