On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the Obama administration’s landmark overhaul of the health care system. The decision to review the case came as little surprise as even the Obama administration had petitioned the court to do so after numerous conflicting rulings handed down by various courts of appeals.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from only one decision, that of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In that decision a divided three-judge panel held the individual mandate amounted to an overstep of Congressional constitutional power. So far this is the only decision to hold the mandate unconstitutional as beyond the scope of either Congress’ power to regulate commerce or to lay and collect taxes.
The Supreme Court’s review will go beyond this immediate question. Not only will the justices consider whether the mandate is constitutional, but they will decide how much of the law survives if it is not. The administration has argued that the mandate is intertwined with other provisions like forbidding insurers from discriminating on the basis of a pre-existing condition. The decision from the 11th Circuit severed the mandate from the rest of the law, keeping those other provisions in place. Conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to go further and strike the entire law along with the mandate.
The Supreme Court will also review the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the Medicaid program–a point the 11th Circuit ruled in favor of the administration on. Republican governors want the expansion ruled unconstitutional as beyond the reach of Congressional power as well, a point that if the court were to side with the conservative governors on would undermine nearly every social safety net program since they are almost all financed as conditional grants like Medicaid.
The court is also set to review the threshold issue of ripeness–that is, whether a challenge to the law is premature at this time. So while the Supreme Court only granted review of one petition, it is essentially dealing with all issues challenging the law.
In addition to granting review this term the court agreed to an unprecedented five hours of argument. Oral arguments will be held by March with a decision late in June, right in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign.
Photo from steakpinball via flickr.