Supreme Court To Review Case Challenging Health Reform Law

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On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it will review the legal challenges against the federal health reform law in early spring 2012, Reuters reports.

The high court posted its decision online this morning. Four lawsuits challenging the law were presented to the justices, but the court selected only the multistate lawsuit filed by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business (Vicini, Reuters, 11/14). The Supreme Court also announced it has accepted HHS’ petition to review the overhaul (Supreme Court summary dispositions release, 11/14).

Background on Lawsuit

In the multistate lawsuit, a three-judge panel for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Aug. 15 ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. The 11th Circuit appeals court was the first to rule against any part of the law.

The plaintiffs in the case argue that the individual coverage mandate exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. In addition, the plaintiffs argue that a provision of the law requiring states to expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level is unconstitutional and "coercive."

The court, in a 2-1 ruling, struck down the individual mandate but left the Medicaid expansion intact (California Healthline, 8/15).

Details of Court's Acceptance of Case

The high court said it consolidated the petitions for writ of certiorari from the two parties to review the issue of "severability." The issue stems from a question about the lack of a severability clause in the health reform law, which would allow one part of the law to be struck down without jeopardizing the entire law.

In addition, the court will review whether the suit is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, which prohibits the court from hearing a suit until the plaintiffs can prove harm. In this case, it might mean the case could not be heard until 2014 -- when the individual mandate and, subsequently, the penalty for not obtaining health insurance -- takes effect (Supreme Court summary dispositions release, 11/14).

The justices will allow about five and a half hours for oral arguments in the case (Haberkorn, Politico, 11/14).

Reactions

In a statement, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said, "We are pleased that the court has agreed to hear this case." He added, "We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree" (Holland, AP/Boston Globe, 11/14).

In a tweet, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Pleased to hear #SCOTUS will rule on ObamaCare. The #hcr law is destroying jobs in America & must be repealed" (Boehner tweet, 11/14).

Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center, said, "We are confident in the strength of our case and hopeful that we will ultimately prevail. Our nation's job-creators depend on a decision being reached before the harmful effects of this new law become irreversible" (Reuters, 11/14).

Timeline

The Supreme Court likely will hear arguments on the case in March 2012.

A decision in the case is likely by the end of the term in late June (Jackson, USA Today, 11/14).


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