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Supreme Court to hear Affordable Care Act challenges

November 14, 2011

In what’s expected to be a historic constitutional test over how much power the federal government has to require individual mandates for states, the Supreme Court of the United States will consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

The nation’s high court released its orders Monday following a private conference Nov. 10, indicating it would take questions from three of the five health care appeals that have been filed nationwide in the past 18 months. The justices granted certiorari in National Federation of Independent Business., et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius, No. 11-393; Department of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Florida, et al., No. 11-398; and Florida, et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 11-400.

The appeals will likely be heard in March, with a decision expected by the end of the court's current term in June – just before the Republican and Democratic national conventions. No dates are set for arguments and the court has set aside  5 ½ hours to hear the parties’ arguments.

One of the main questions before the justices is the constitutionality of the individual insurance mandate, the foundation of the health care reform passed in 2010, and whether Congress exceeded its regulatory power on interstate commerce in requiring that coverage. That question comes from the HHS v. Florida case. Indiana and 25 other states joined Florida as parties in that case earlier this year.

A Florida federal court judge struck down the entire law as unconstitutional and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part, finding that only the individual mandate portion of the law is unconstitutional. That decision was opposite of what the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found in a separate challenge, and the 4th Circuit had previously determined it couldn’t rule on the constitutionality of the individual mandate until it went into effect in 2014. The SCOTUS declined to take those two cases.

The court will examine the issue of “severability” of the insurance mandate from the law’s other provisions, a question brought up in both the Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services and NFIB v. Sebelius cases. Those two cases are consolidated for 90 minutes of oral argument.

Parties are also directed to brief and argue whether the lawsuit initiated by the states involving the insurance mandate is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. One hour is devoted to that issue relating only to state application, but not how private entities such as businesses might challenge the individual mandate.
 

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