Supreme Court agrees to settle fight over Obama health-care law
The Obama health-care law hangs in the balance, as the Supreme Court opts to hear challenges to its constitutionality. But the case is also about the power of Congress and the role of Supreme Court precedent.
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In the wheat and marijuana cases, the court upheld the broad application of commerce clause power by the national government. But the court found Congress had acted beyond its commerce clause authority in enacting a gun-free school zone and in passing the Violence Against Women Act. The court said those laws were too far removed from interstate commercial activities to justify federal intrusion into areas traditionally regulated by the states.Skip to next paragraph
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Although the federal government has become heavily involved in funding aspects of the health-care market, insurance is an area of commerce traditionally regulated at the state level on a state-by-state basis. On the other hand, the private companies offering insurance are participants in a national market.
ACA supporters say the health-care reform law is clearly a regulation of commerce. The health insurance market accounts for 17 percent of the US economy, they say, and health care is a product every human being at some point will require.
“Because of human susceptibility to disease and accident, we are all never more than an instant from the point of consumption of health care,” wrote US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, urging the court to take up the appeal. “Nothing in the commerce clause requires Congress to withhold federal regulation until that moment.”
ACA opponents counter that the individual mandate is a massive power grab by the federal government that violates the constitutional order of a federal government of limited powers established by the Founding Fathers.
“The individual mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them repurchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives,” wrote Paul Clement in his brief urging the court to take up the appeal.
Other considerations for the high court
In addition to allotting two hours for arguments concerning the individual mandate, the justices set an additional hour to cover the question of whether the ACA lawsuits must be dismissed under the Anti-Injunction Act.
The justices also agreed to take up a case filed by Florida and 24 other states charging that the ACA is unconstitutionally coercive to state government, forcing the states to participate in the national reform effort or risk loss of federal health-care funds.
The court will also hear 90 minutes of argument on whether the entire health-care reform law must be struck down, or just portions of it, should the court determine that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.
The case will be set for oral argument sometime next year in late winter or spring, with a decision expected by late June.
The granted cases are Department of HHS v. Florida (11-398), National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (11-393), and Florida v. Department of HHS (11-400).
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