US Supreme Court opens, likely to wade into health care debate
It seems inevitable that the US Supreme Court will agree to hear the legal challenge to President Obama’s health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. As the court opens Monday, gun laws, immigration, racial preferences, and separation of church and state loom as major issues as well.
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In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, the justices have agreed to decide whether the government has the power to order the routine strip search of persons detained by law enforcement regardless of how minor the offense or any individual assessment of his or her likelihood to be carrying a weapon or contraband.Skip to next paragraph
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Tracking criminal suspects' cars
The court will also decide in United States v. Jones whether the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement officials to install a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car to conduct continuous round-the-clock surveillance without first obtaining a judicially-authorized warrant.
By far the most significant case of the term – and perhaps for a generation – will be the constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Did Congress act within its commerce clause powers when it approved the ACA’s individual mandate?
The ACA requires every American to purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.
Opponents say never before has the US government required citizens to purchase a private service or face punishment. Supporters say the measure is well within Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.
A panel at the Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta voted 2 to 1 to strike down the individual mandate as exceeding Congressional authority. A different panel at the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled that the mandate did not violate commerce clause restrictions. A third panel at the Fourth Circuit in Richmond threw the case out on other grounds.
“The federal government’s assertion of power, under the commerce clause … is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure,” the Eleventh Circuit majority declared.
In a brief urging the high court to take up the case, US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the Eleventh Circuit had jettisoned “the considered judgment of the elected branches of government – after years of study and deliberation – on how to address a crisis in the national health care market.”
He added: “The minimum coverage provision is squarely within Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, lay and collect taxes, and enact legislation.”
“The court of appeals’ contrary decision is fundamentally flawed and denies Congress the broad deference it is due in enacting laws to address the nation’s most pressing economic problems and set tax policy,” he wrote.
It is now up to the Supreme Court to resolve the disagreement. Initial briefs have already been filed. Reply briefs are expected by the end of the month. The court could announce in November whether it will hear the case, and which questions it will decide. A final decision could be expected by late June.
The ACA is one of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements – an attempt to fundamentally reshape the provision of health insurance nationwide. But it is also controversial. Attorneys general from 26 of the 50 states are co-litigants who urged the Eleventh Circuit to declare the law unconstitutional.
The reform effort has also split the nation. That division is expected to continue and deepen with each stage of the litigation extending well into the 2012 presidential campaign.