By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In what many consider to be a risky political move, lawyers for the Obama Administration have officially petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case challenging the constitutionality of portions of the president’s health care reform law, which means a decision could come in the middle of the 2012 presidential election.
The New York Times is reporting that the request came as a surprise to many who believed the administration would wait until the last minute to request a review of the contentious legislation after a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the centerpiece of the law, the individual mandate. A petition was not due until November, which could have forestalled a risky verdict in the middle of what is expected to be a difficult election year for the president.
“The department has consistently and successfully defended this law in several courts of appeals, and only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “We believe the question is appropriate for review by the Supreme Court.
“Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation, such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed,” the statement continued. “We believe the challenges to the Affordable Care Act — like the one in the 11th Circuit — will also ultimately fail and that the Supreme Court will uphold the law.”
While the administration did not say why it chose to expedite the request, however it did say in its brief to the 11th Circuit that resolving the conflict concerning the individual mandate, which requires citizens to buy insurance or be fined, was “a matter of grave national importance.”
This is one area where both sides appear to agree.
“Time is of the essence,” wrote Paul D. Clement, a former United States solicitor general who represents 26 states that are challenging the law. “The grave constitutional questions surrounding the A.C.A. [Affordable Care Act] and its novel exercise of federal power will not subside until this court resolves them.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also said voters would be better off if they knew the law’s fate law before casting their ballots next year.
In an interview yesterday with the Associated Press, the 91-year-old Stevens predicted the justices would not shy away from deciding the case in the middle of a presidential campaign and would be doing the country a service. “It would be better to have that known about than be speculated as a part of the political argument,” Stevens said.
He does not believe presidential politics will have any effect on how the Court will rule. “They’ll decide it on the law. I’m totally convinced of that,” he said.
Although he would not say how he would vote on the issue, he did say that he would opt to hear the case sooner rather than later.
Court watchers expect the case to be taken by the Supreme Court during its current term, which starts on Monday, because they rarely turn down a government request for a review, especially in cases where federal courts have issued conflicting rulings. This would mean oral arguments will be scheduled for the spring with a ruling coming by sometime in June, just months away from the presidential election.
No matter what the verdict, Obama stands to be hurt politically. If the Court strikes down the mandate, it would be a serious blow to his presidency, which has accomplished little else. But even if the Court upholds it, such a ruling is expected fuel his opponents who are making repeal of the unpopular law a centerpiece of their campaigns.
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