The Supreme Court on Monday announced that it has decided to consider the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s healthcare reform bill by July, meaning that the court’s decision will be handed down well before the 2012 presidential election.
But regardless of the court’s actions, Obamacare almost certainly will remain a key issue in the election.
And one pundit believes that a Supreme Court ruling overturning healthcare reform could actually aid President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.
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The high court has agreed to hear a challenge brought by a group of Republican governors and attorneys general from 26 states.
“It is fortunate for the nation that the Supreme Court has decided to hear this appeal,” healthcare expert Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, told Newsmax.
“The nation has been in legal limbo as states and businesses have been spending billions for a law which probably will not go into effect — and should not.”
The Obamacare issue “is going to be the most heavily covered Supreme Court case in history, even more so than Bush v. Gore,” Washington attorney Thomas Goldstein, who argues regularly at the court, told USA Today, referring to the 2000 presidential election dispute.
The healthcare case is “the perfect storm of a pocketbook issue that’s also part of an ideological war between the parties in an election year,” Goldstein said.
At the center of the legal dispute over the Affordable Care Act is the individual mandate and whether Congress overstepped its powers by requiring that all Americans buy healthcare insurance by 2014 or face a penalty.
The challengers view the mandate as an intrusion on individual liberty, and argue that Congress can’t use its interstate commerce powers to regulate citizens who do not want to purchase insurance, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Obama administration maintains that the mandate is a valid way to deal with a national crisis in which uninsured Americans impose tremendous costs on the healthcare system.
In a statement issued on Monday, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said: “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”
But Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which opposes Obamacare, said in a statement: "This is the day we have been waiting for. It was clear that Obamacare would ultimately be decided by the high court when it was signed into law nearly 20 months ago. By taking these cases, the high court can bring clarity and end the confusion about a law that most Americans have consistently opposed.
“We have argued from the beginning that Obamacare, including the individual mandate, is unconstitutional. We will be representing more than 100 members of Congress and tens of thousands of Americans in our amicus brief urging the high court to reject this flawed healthcare law.”
The court is expected to hear more than five hours of arguments in March, with a decision expected by the end of June — just before the Republican and Democratic conventions for the 2012 presidential election.
The court ordinarily allots only one hour to hear a dispute. The length of time specified for the healthcare review indicates both the complexity and importance of the issues involved.
The high court also agreed to decide if the rest of the healthcare bill can remain intact if the individual mandate is struck down. The Obama administration argues that most of the bill’s provisions are not connected to the mandate and should remain in place even if the mandate is declared unconstitutional, the Journal noted.
But a procedural question could prevent the court from issuing a major ruling: Do the penalties required by the individual mandate amount to a tax that can be challenged only after it is collected? If so, then courts would not be able to consider legal challenges until Americans begin paying the penalties in 2014.
Four U.S. appeals courts already have ruled on the law. Two have declared it constitutional, and one, the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit, declared it unconstitutional. The fourth court ruled that no challenge could be brought until a person was required to pay the penalty.
Legal experts say the vote could be close in the Supreme Court, which now has four liberals and five conservatives, with moderate conservative Anthony Kennedy often casting the deciding vote, Reuters observed.
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia joined two rulings that placed limits on Congress’s commerce power.
McCaughey predicts the case “will end in a 5-to-4 vote to strike down mandatory health insurance.”
As embarrassing as it might be for Obama to have his signature bill struck down by the court, “it’s probably still a net positive for the president to see his law go down in defeat,” said Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News and author of Fox’s Power Play column.
“If the central provision of the legislation [the individual mandate] is struck down and the law is unraveled, the president would be largely excused from defending the legislation.
“Especially if the Republicans, as expected, nominate Mitt Romney, a pioneer of mandatory insurance, there will be little incentive for the GOP to hound Obama on the law.” Republicans “would lost much of their ability to run against” Obamacare.
If the court invalidates the law, Stirewalt adds, “Obama will say he needs four more years to remake the Supreme Court so the left can finally have the kind of public-sector, centralized health program it has long coveted.”
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