Supreme Court will take up Florida-led challenge to ObamaCare

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The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will take up a Florida-led challenge to the 2010 federal-health overhaul, setting the stage for arguments next year in the landmark constitutional case, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Justices will consider four major issues, including whether Congress can require most Americans to have health insurance starting in 2014 and whether it acted improperly in approving a major expansion of the Medicaid program.

Then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the challenge in Pensacola immediately after President Obama signed the health law in March 2010.

The case also drew as plaintiffs 25 other states, the National Federation of Independent Business and two citizens, including one from Florida, Panama City businesswoman Mary Brown.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, McCollum’s successor, issued a statement Monday saying she was pleased the court will determine the constitutionality of the requirement that Americans have health insurance, which has become known as the “individual mandate.”

“Throughout this case, we have urged swift judicial resolution because of the unprecedented threat that the individual mandate poses to the liberty of Americans simply because they live in this country,” Bondi said. “We are hopeful that by June 2012 we will have a decision that protects Americans’ and individuals’ liberties and limits the federal government’s power.”

In a blog post on the White House website, the Obama administration said it also wanted the Supreme Court to hear the case “to put the challenges to rest and continue moving forward with implementing the law.” It said, in part, the law would expand health coverage to 32 million people.

“We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said, using a commonly known name for the law.

As an indication of the importance of the challenge, justices set aside 5 and a half hours to hear arguments — a length of time that the authoritative Supreme Court tracking website SCOTUSblog said appeared to be a “modern record.” SCOTUSblog also reported that the arguments will be spread over two days in March.

The health law is a signature achievement of the Obama presidency but is derisively called “Obamacare” by Republicans and other opponents. It was a major issue during the 2010 elections and likely will be again as Obama seeks re-election in 2012.

Much of the legal and political controversy has centered on the individual mandate, with opponents contending that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority in approving the coverage requirement. People who do not have health coverage in 2014 would be subject to tax penalties.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Florida and the other plaintiffs in ruling that the mandate is unconstitutional. But courts in other parts of the country have come to a different conclusion, including in a ruling last week by a Washington, D.C., appeals court.

Florida also has focused on fighting part of the law that would expand Medicaid eligibility, which is part of the push to ensure more people have health coverage. Florida and other states argue that Congress would improperly “compel” them to expand Medicaid by threatening to withhold other funding for the program — though the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state’s arguments.

One of the other issues that the Supreme Court will consider is whether the entire law should be tossed out if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Obama administration that other parts of the massive law could move forward without the mandate.

Another part of the arguments will focus on whether the individual mandate can even be legally challenged at this point. That issue stems from an 1867 law, known as the Anti-Injunction Act, which is designed to prevent lawsuits about taxes until after they are assessed and collected.

The individual mandate’s tax penalties will not take effect until after 2014.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.