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Timing is everything in Supreme Court health care debate

The U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court.
Christopher Chan/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear arguments over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The health-care overhaul, which extends coverage to over 30 million Americans, has been battling legal challenges from the right ever since it was signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

At issue is the so-called “individual mandate,” requiring all Americans to be covered or face a penalty. The National Federation of Independent Businesses is joined by 26 states and individual challengers in challenging the law, which they say poses undue hardship on states and small businesses.

Surprisingly, several conservative judges have upheld the mandate’s constitutionality in two of the four challenges. One court struck it down; another ruled that the law could not be challenged until the penalty is enforced, which won’t happen until the law goes into effect in 2014. Besides debating the individual mandate’s constitutionality, the court will evaluate whether the overall health care law can stand without it.

It’s being called the most important Supreme Court case since Bush v. Gore decided the 2000 presidential election, and the timing of the court is significant. Putting “ObamaCare” on trial now means that a decision could be reached by June, well before the 2012 presidential election – which, however they decide, could be to Obama’s advantage. With health care still a major hill to conquer in the ideological war between Democrats and Republicans, one thing is sure: the SCOTUS arguments will keep this issue front and center throughout the campaign primary. What will happen to "ObamaCare" if the high court throws out the individual mandate? What impact would their decision have on the presidential election?


Karl Mannheim, Professor of constitutional law, Loyola Law School Los Angeles

Randy Barnett, Professor of constitutional law, Georgetown University

Adriel Bettelheim, healthcare reporter for Bloomberg News out of DC.