The Supreme Court today announced that it would hear one of several cases that have been working their way through the federal court system challenging the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal healthcare reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2010 by President Barack Obama.
The nation’s high court’s announcement came just six days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had affirmed the entire ACA on Nov. 8. That ruling was the fourth among four federal appeals courts that had taken on legal challenges to the ACA. Among the four federal appeals courts, two of the courts (the D.C. court and the Sixth District court in Cincinnati) had affirmed the entire law, while the Fourth District court in Richmond had declared the plaintiffs in the two cases it heard to have lacked the legal standing to bring their cases. However, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals in Atlanta had ruled against the individual insurance mandate in a 2-1 decision on Aug. 12, though that court had also determined that the ACA as a whole was constitutional.
In sum, no federal appellate court has struck down the entire ACA as unconstitutional, while the Eleventh Circuit had struck down only the individual mandate element of the law. Still, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take on the entire law, and could rule the entire law constitutional; could rule the entire law unconstitutional; or could rule only on the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The nation’s highest court could also choose to rule that it is too early to rule on the constitutionality of the ACA, based on the fact that its individual mandate element does not become effective until 2014, by applying a federal law that says that legal challenges cannot be brought to taxes until those taxes are actually levied.
The high court is expected to hear oral arguments by sometime in March 2012, and will likely issue a ruling by June.