It appears less likely that a United States Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act will take place before the 2012 elections, thanks to a September 7 ruling by a federal appeals court. The healthcare law requires that all Americans, by the year 2014, either purchase health insurance or pay a fine.
The three judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, quoted the Anti-Injunction Act in its latest ruling, a law that prohibits any suit seeking to block the collection of federal taxes from being heard. The law specifically states that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.”
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote that the court is not allowed to consider a suit brought forth by Liberty University, a Christian school located in Lynchburg, Virginia. “This expansive language leaves no room for a court to carve out exceptions based on the policy ramifications of a particular pre-enforcement challenge, wrote Judge Motz. Liberty University had argued that the Anti-Injunction Act did not provide the legal means to block the suit from being heard, but that notion was rejected by Motz and one other panel member.
The White House claimed victory following the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. “This decision is another victory for the Affordable Care Act and the tens of millions of Americans already benefitting from this landmark law,” blogged Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior adviser. Even if the court had decided to consider the case, Cutter made reference to statements by two judges that would have upheld the healthcare law if that court had decided to hear the case.
The Virginia-based court ruling differs from an earlier opinion of the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, which stated the Anti-Injunction Act didn’t apply. Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law said the Virginia ruling was astounding, adding, “I think this is a case that would clearly be reversed.”
Walter Dellinger, the former U.S. solicitor general who submitted a briefing backing the healthcare law, was quoted in a recent Bloomberg article saying, “It’s still the case that we will get some decision from the United States Supreme Court [during] the last week of this coming June , but it is possible that ruling could be that no one has the right to challenge this law until they’ve declined to pay the penalty or sought a refund.”
A total of 26 states have contended that Congress exceeded its power under the commerce clause when it passed the Affordable Care Act mandating that Americans acquire health insurance by 2014. However, Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who opposes the ACA believes the Anti-Injunction Act could provide the Supreme Court with a means to leave the healthcare law intact without formally endorsing an expansion of federal power. “I think it’s more likely to do that than to rule for the individual mandate on the merits,” said Shapiro.
There are strong opinions on all sides of the healthcare issue, and some were hoping for a clear-cut Supreme Court ruling next June. However, it may not be until 2013 (or later) that the actual constitutionality of requiring U.S. residents to hold a health insurance policy or pay a fine will be addressed. In the meantime advocates for and against the measure will be keeping a close tab on future rulings leading up to Supreme Court ruling in June 2012 on whether to hear the case.