Nov 15, 2011

Supreme Court To Review Healthcare Reform Law In March

Posted by: Neal Stehly

The Supreme Court's announcement that it would take up the challenges to healthcare reform drew heavy print and broadcast coverage, including nearly 7 and a half minutes of coverage on network newscasts (it was the lead story on NBC Nightly News) and several stories that appeared on the front pages of major newspapers. Most reports place the arguments, scheduled for March, against the backdrop of a politically charged presidential year.

        ABC World News (11/14, story 3, 2:15, Sawyer) reported, "Word today that the Supreme Court will weigh in on a lightning rod issue, whether the President's healthcare law is constitutional. A question that spawned heated debates on both sides. A Supreme Court ruling being heralded as the most important since Bush vs. Gore in 2000. Not to mention, the decision will come during the heat of the presidential race."

        The CBS Evening News (11/14, story 7, 2:05, Pelley) reported, "The case is so complex the court has scheduled arguments for more than five hours." Twenty-six "states joined forces and sued the federal government to block the law. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed and struck it down."

        NBC Nightly News (11/14, lead story, 3:05, Williams) reported, "As for how the ideologically divided court might rule, legal experts say it might not be the usual 5-4 split. Some of the conservatives have been willing to uphold broad uses of federal power in the lives of individual citizens."

        USA Today (11/15, Biskupic) reports, "The Supreme Court's announcement Monday that it will hear challenges to the Obama-sponsored health care law opens the most important chapter in the legal battle over the law, amid the tumult of election-year politics." USA adds, "A ruling could determine the federal government's power to address the most pressing social problems, specifically how to ensure medical coverage nationwide. The decision is likely to be handed down in late June, right before the Republican and Democratic conventions for the 2012 presidential election."

        The Washington Post (11/15, A1, Barnes), on its front page, reports, "As a mark of the importance of the case to the court headed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., justices said they will hear 5 1/2 hours of oral arguments on the constitutional question and related issues." The Post notes that the White House "welcomed the court's announcement. 'We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,' White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement."

        A front-page story in the New York Times (11/15, A1, Liptak, Subscription Publication) reports, "Appeals from three courts had been vying for the justices' attention, presenting an array of issues beyond the central one of whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to purchase health insurance or face a penalty through the so-called individual mandate." The court "agreed to hear appeals from just one decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, the only one so far striking down the mandate. On Monday, the justices agreed to decide not only whether the mandate is constitutional but also, if it is not, how much of the balance of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with it."

        The Los Angeles Times (11/15, Savage) reports, "The Republican governors and state attorneys who challenged the law argued that the power to regulate commerce does not extend to requiring unwilling buyers to purchase insurance. They also allege that the law's expansion of Medicaid will force the states to take on extra burdens. Sponsors of the law estimate that it will extend health coverage to 16 million more children and low-income adults through expanding Medicaid."

        Politico (11/15, Haberkorn) reports that the court "also signaled that it could punt a decision on the individual mandate until 2014. In accepting the challenges to the law, the court said it would devote an hour of the arguments to the effect of the Anti-Injunction Act - a law that, in the view of some courts, could prohibit a ruling on the individual mandate until the mandate goes into effect in 2014. That could provide an escape clause if the court wants it."

        Bloomberg News (11/15, Stohr) reports, "Both sides said they were pleased the court agreed to take up the case. US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said a high court ruling would clear up legal uncertainty that might interfere with implementing the law's central provisions by 2014. 'We're eager to have states, who may be sitting on the sidelines, engage fully in putting together these exchanges,' she said."

        Poll Shows Falling Support For Law. A front-page story in the Wall Street Journal (11/15, Bravin, Subscription Publication) reports that although public opinion about the new law appeared fairly evenly split for more than a year, a poll released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 51 percent of respondents now have an unfavorable opinion of the law, while only 34 percent held a favorable view.

        Effects Of New Law Would Be Difficult To Reverse. The New York Times (11/15, Abelson, Harris, Pear, Subscription Publication) reports, "No matter what the Supreme Court decides about the constitutionality of the federal law adopted last year, health care in America has changed in ways that will not be easily undone. Provisions already put in place, like tougher oversight of health insurers, the expansion of coverage to one million young adults and more protections for workers with pre-existing conditions are already well cemented and popular." Meanwhile, "a combination of the law and economic pressures has forced major institutions to wrestle with the relentless rise in health care costs."

        More Commentary. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (11/15, A19, Subscription Publication), David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, attorneys who served in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and have represented the 26 states in their challenge to the healthcare reform law before trial and appellate courts, argue that the law's individual mandate is unconstitutional because only the states have the authority to impose individual regulations of this type. Rivkin and Casey also attack several other provisions of the law on legal grounds, and urge the court to rule the entire law unconstitutional.

        In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (11/15, A18, Subscription Publication) also puts the individual mandate under tight legal scrutiny, and applauds the court for showing courage in taking up this contentious issue during an election year.

        The New York Times (11/15, A30, Subscription Publication) reports, "If the court follows its own precedents, as it should, this case should not be a close call: The reform law and a provision requiring most people to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty are clearly constitutional."

        In the Los Angeles Times (11/15), Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, writes that "what complicates the decision and makes the result unpredictable is whether the justices will see the issue in terms of precedent or through the partisanship that has so dominated the public debate and most of the court decisions so far."

        USA Today (11/15) editorializes, "In recent years, judges increasingly have come to be seen not as independent, fair-minded interpreters of the law and the Constitution, but as politicians in robes. The health care case gives the court an extraordinary opportunity to help clean up that tarnished image." According to USA Today, "Simply because the case is so politically contentious, a lopsided ruling in either direction would send an encouraging message that the court is what Chief Justice John Roberts once said it should be: an honest umpire."


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