WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will hear the appeals in a 26-state lawsuit that challenges President Barack Obama's federal health care reform law.
The court is tasked with determining if a mandate in the legislation that requires individuals to purchase health insurance or face a financial penalty is constitutional. And if it rules that it isn't, the court must decide if the entire law will be voided or just the mandate.
Karen Harned, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business' Small-Business Legal Center, said the law failed small businesses and self-employed individuals.
"After months of uncertainty and frustration, small-business owners are finally within the reach of some clarity on how this law will ultimately impact their lives and their livelihoods," Harned 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."
The NFIB is a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought 14 states in March 2010 that challenged the mandate, which requires an annual $695 penalty to be assessed against those who do not have health insurance. Twelve other states later joined the cause.
"Given the substantial implementation costs associated with this 2,700-page law -- and the unconstitutional mandate that it will impose on all Americans -- we are pleased that the Supreme Court has moved quickly and agreed to hear this very important case," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.
Out of three appeals made to the U.S. Supreme Court, it decided only to hear the 26-state case.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled for the states earlier this year but did not find that the mandate was essential to the entire law. A district court judge in Florida had. Both agreed that the mandate was regulating economic inactivity.
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's case that he did not have standing to challenge the law on behalf of the state of Virginia because the State wouldn't be affected by the mandate. Only individual Virginians would be, the court said in overturning a district judge's ruling.
The Sixth Circuit sided with the federal government in a 2-1 decision, writing that Congress could conclude that the actions of the self-insured substantially affect insterstate commerce.
The Third Circuit ruled in August that a group of New Jersey doctors did not have standing to challenge the law. The doctors could not allege an "actual" injury, the court ruled.
The D.C. Circuit upheld the mandate earlier this month, ruling, "The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute."
Stephen Presser, a law professor at Northwestern University, said Monday that a decision should be expected in June. He is of the opinion that the mandate is unconstitutional.
"The United States Congress (or perhaps a federal agency) could, conceivably, force Americans to buy environmentally-friendly products, could force us to take other steps to minimize our health risks (the infamous claim that we may all be ordered to eat our broccoli, or other fruits and vegetables), and, as virtually every court which has examined the issue has concluded, if the federal government can force us to buy health insurance from private parties, there is very little (if anything) that the federal government may not do," he said.
The court's eventual ruling could also play a part in Obama's re-election bid next year. Another issue could be the participation of Justice Elena Kagan, who was solicitor general at the time the law was passed.
The Judicial Crisis Network recently released a paper that argues that Kagan took part in conversations about defending the law while she was solicitor general.
"The president is now asking her to adopt the very same positions her office helped craft for him on this matter, but this time, as a Supreme Court Justice," the paper says.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.