Clarence ThomasWASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Legal challenges to the national health care overhaul signed last month by President Barack Obama will be heard eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer predicted Thursday.
Appearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies, Breyer said the nearly $1 trillion health care plan will likely be heard by the nine-member high court, just as most major federal legislation is reviewed by the justices.
Breyer and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas were on Capitol Hill today to testify before the subcommittee on the Supreme Court's budget request for the next fiscal year.
As for the high court's relatively light caseload in recent years, Breyer, in response to a question, said that trend could shift given that Congress recently "passed a law with 2,400 pages," referring to the health care reform championed by Democrats.
"I would predict three or four years from today, no one is going to ask us again why we have so few cases," said Breyer, who has been on the court since 1994. He was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Thomas told the budget-writing panel that the Supreme Court's caseload depends in large part on laws passed by Congress.
"Until recently, there hasn't been comprehensive legislation of the kind that would fill our docket," said Thomas, who has served as an associate justice since 1991, after being appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.
The mammoth health care overhaul will expand insurance coverage to more than 32 million Americans, marking the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.
Passage of a significant health care bill to change the way U.S. insurance companies do business was the cornerstone of Obama's domestic policy agenda.
Already, 20 states are challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires, among other things, that most Americans have medical coverage by 2014 or face financial penalties.
The law also will require that businesses with more than 50 workers provide employees health coverage or pay a $2,000-a-worker penalty if any of their employees get government-subsidized plans on their own.
The individual mandate provision provides subsidies to help low- and middle-income workers buy insurance coverage. The plan also calls for new taxes on wealthy Americans and the nation's well-insured.
The multistate lawsuit, led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
The plaintiffs -- state attorneys general and two governors -- claim that the insurance mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
The states involved in the lawsuit are Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada and Arizona. The Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed his own lawsuit.