The battle over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” to its detractors — is shaping up to be the 2012 version of the US Supreme Court decision in Gore v. Bush, which decided the 2000 presidential election.
This week, the Obama administration chose to pass up an opportunity to ask a federal court to review the August decision of a small panel of the same court’s judges. In that decision, the panel found the law’s requirement that all Americans to obtain insurance to be unconstitutional.
The full law and that specific provision have been challenged in several courts, and each subsequent court has ruled differently. The 11th circuit issued the latest decision, which conflicts with other courts that have found the law constitutional, within federal authority or said it was not yet ripe to litigate because the provision in question does not take effect until 2014.
The mix in opinions among federal courts set up a ripe opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to come in and decide.
Legal scholars are saying a decision in either direction on the individual mandate could play in Obama’s favor. Upholding it could be a boon to his authority and an endorsement that his administration was right and justified in including that provision. A ruling against it could energize the Democratic base because it would exemplify the importance of granting the president a second term to curtail the possibility of a Republican president making the Supreme Court even more conservative. Currently, five justices swing conservative, four liberal.
Republicans could point to a decision by the Supreme Court to throw out the provision as indication the president did, in fact, overreach and forced the legislation down the throats of the American people without constitutional authority.
In the end, all parties are looking for a decision to be handed down in June, smack dab in the heat of the 2012 general presidential election.
In an indirect way, the Supreme Court could influence who becomes the next president, for the second time, albeit not in such as a direct way as in 2000.