Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare Expected in Spring

Published November 15, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a lawsuit against President Obama’s health care law, allotting five and a half hours for oral argument in the spring of 2012 on a key challenge to the law.

The timing of the Supreme Court’s consideration of the case means it will be decided well before the 2012 elections. The arguments will center on Florida v. HHS, the key case brought by 26 states against the individual mandate in the law.

According to Maureen Martin, senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute, Florida v. HHS is one of the strongest cases brought against the law, and the ramifications of the Court’s ruling will be significant.

“It is not an overstatement to say the fate of our Republic is at stake in the Obamacare cases,” Martin said. “This case is probably the most important one to come before the Supreme Court in eighty or more years.”

Severability Is Key

The Supreme Court will also consider a petition brought by The National Federation of Independent Business, which had requested clarification concerning the severability of the mandate from the rest of the law’s requirements, meaning whether the law “must be invalidated in its entirety because it is non-severable from the individual mandate that exceeds Congress’ limited and enumerated powers under the Constitution.”

A decision for severability could cause Obamacare to collapse, Martin says.

“If the mandate is invalidated, the severability clause issue takes on enhanced importance,” she said. “Invalidating the mandate but severing it—leaving the rest of the law in place—will cause great uncertainty because the federal government has said in court in these cases the law cannot financially stand without the mandates.”

Martin says severing the mandate could leave intact many elements of the plan—the insurance exchanges, the price controls, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the medical device tax, and numerous other taxes and regulations—with Congress having to resolve the issues following the election.

“Congress may not be in a position to resolve it so close to the November 2012 election,” Martin said.

Any Limits to Federal Power?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he and other opponents of the law hope the Supreme Court will strike down the mandate, at minimum.

“Throughout the debate, Senate Republicans have argued that this misguided law represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American. Most Americans agree,” McConnell said at a press conference. “In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law’s mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance, and I hope the Supreme Court will do the same.”

Martin says the case will decide whether there are effectively any limits to federal power.

“Obamacare is, of course, epic in its proportions and amounts to a massive federal takeover of health care in the United States,” Martin said. “But more broadly, the case presents the issue of whether federal power has any limits at all. The Constitution empowers the federal government to ‘regulate’ commerce among states, but the Court has virtually eliminated the distinction between interstate and local commercial affairs. The Court has the opportunity in these cases to restore the distinction intended by the Founders.”