The moment we’ve been waiting for is now upon us. The Supreme Court announced by website its plan to review constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act – you remember that, right? It’s the federal law signed by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010 that extends health care to over 30 million uninsured Americans while reforming certain aspects of the private health care industry. Of course, you know it as “Obamacare.”
Since the Truman Administration, Democrats have struggled to reform health care, providing medical access to all Americans like other countries do for their own through government-imposed mandates and subsidies. As expected, Republican leaders have been against the measure since Day 1, vowing to repeal or eliminate as much of the bill as possible. They worry that having government-run medicine will result in higher taxes and, worse, health care services for all. Dubbing it “Obamacare,” several states have sued in their courts to have the Act declared unconstitutional, claiming its enactment is an improper exercise of federal authority. The measure passed last year straight down party lines.
The results in court have been about half and half, with some upholding the act while others have found it unconstitutional. That prompted the Obama administration to ask the Supreme Court to hear legal challenges to the health reform law. In Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Judge Roger Vinson declared the law unconstitutional based on the individual mandate to purchase insurance, saying that it exceeds the authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce.
A 3-judge panel in Virginia overturned an earlier district court’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional, saying the state didn’t have the authority to challenge the law based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. And the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the law is constitutional, which was surprising, given the conservative makeup of the court. Senior Judge Lawrence Silberman is quoted as saying: “The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems.”
It’s the DC Court of Appeals ruling setting the stage for a big bitter fight in the Supreme Court. Needless to say, it will be interesting to witness which way the court goes, considering it’s very conservative makeup.
Ironically, the Act is actually based on GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney’s plan, which he enacted as governor of the state of Massachusetts. However, it was based on an individual state and not the entire country. And, as noted earlier, many countries around the world have universal healthcare for their citizens. Before the Act was passed, the United States of America was one of the last developed countries in the world not to have some sort of universal healthcare. Sarah Palin even remarked how she used to sneak her family across the border to Canada to receive free healthcare. One fails to see how this is a bad thing.
The court will hold oral arguments on the case in late February or March, with a ruling expected by June. The main issue that will be considered by the justices is whether or not the “individual mandate” section of the law, which requires all Americans to have some sort of medical coverage by 2014, is a proper exercise of federal authority. Daily Kos also notes that the court will address:
1. Whether Congress can tell the states that they have to expand how many people are covered by Medicaid, and force them to pay for the expansion, by threatening to withhold billions in federal funding unless States comply.
2. Whether the mandate is a tax and, as such, can’t be challenged in Court until it’s actually imposed in 2014 or so.
3. Whether Congress had the power under Article I of the Constitution to enact the mandate.
4. And if it didn’t, what other parts of the Act are so inextricably intertwined with it that they, too must go.
It’s safe to bet that oral arguments will be a hot ticket for the Court during that time. You can also bet that President Obama will be watching closely, with the elections a few short months away. Of course, the conservative justices on the Court know that too. President Obama’s Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer notes, “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.” Stay tuned.