November 14th, 2011
10:55 AM ET

Supreme Court agrees to hear health care law appeal; so what could ruling mean?

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Obama.

Oral arguments would probably be held in late February or March, with a ruling by June, assuring the blockbuster issue will become the topic of a hot-button political debate in a presidential election year.

The announcement, made in a brief, was expected as several legal challenges have worked their way through the appeals process.

So now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, what does it mean? And what could the political and legal implications be?

One of the key issues to be considered by the high court's nine justices is whether the "individual mandate" section of the law - requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties - is an improper exercise of federal authority. Various states have argued that if that linchpin provision is found unconstitutional, the entire law will have to be scrapped.

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said that while the challenge is a fairly straightforward legal question, the implications, especially the political ones, are huge.

"The federal government has to abide by the Constitution," Toobin said. "And the Constitution says that the federal government is allowed to regulate interstate commerce."

Under that umbrella fall Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - some of the issues at the heart of Obama's health care plan, he said.

"The Obama administration says his health care plan is simply a reflection of the way the federal government has been involved in health care for many, many years," Toobin explained.

But many states that have filed the challenges say that Obama's plan is too far-reaching.

"Many states have challenged this and said, 'This is different because it requires individuals to buy a private product, that is health insurance,' and that is something [they feel] the federal government simply does not have the authority to do," Toobin said.

He said the issue has divided courts during the challenges to the health care law, but more courts have upheld it than have struck it down.

"But I think it's likely to be a close question in the Supreme Court, and it is certainly the most important case that the court has had since Bush v. Gore 11 years ago," Toobin said.

And it's also a ruling that could play a part in the 2012 election, he added.

"If the law is struck down, if the central achievement of President Obama's domestic policy is struck down, I think that would be very, very bad for him; the idea that he spent all this time on something that was unconstitutional," Toobin said. "If he wins, I think it's a benefit. Gratification by a basically conservative Supreme Court, I think, will be seen as a victory for him and will likely give him some momentum heading into the convention. But I think we really have to see."

CNN Chief  White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin said the White House feels confident about the challenge, given that three out of four circuit courts have ruled in favor of the law's constitutionality, including rulings coming from "some highly conservative judges."

Yellin said the issue's importance may increase, depending on who Obama faces in the race for president. If Mitt Romney is the nominee, an overturning of the law may not be as bad, because Romney supported an individual mandate in his state.

However, either way, an overturning of the law would not be seen in the best light for Obama as he asks the country to elect him for a second term.

"This was what he lobbied for more than anything else, and if it's overturned by the Supreme Court, it is not a happy day for the campaign or for the president." Yellin said. "That said, they don't expect it to be [overturned.]"

soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. WDinDallas

    Let the populace vote!

    November 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      But I don't want to indirectly pay the cost of the uninsured when"the populace" chooses to be irresponsible. A mandate is absolutely the right thing to do.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Las

      Folks like AreUserious obviously cannot think for themselves. Of course we understand that individual states mandate auto insurance, but to be so naive to think that your auto insurance is there to protect only the other party makes me laugh. IT IS THERE TO PROTECT YOU AS WELL MY FRIEND!. Consider the possible alternative ... the state or city that you reside in would force you to come up with a lump sum (how does $100K sound?) if you are at fault in an accident. The mandate to purchase health care is no different ... like most folks I know I would not be able to hand the hospital management a check for $10k at this point ... much more $100k! So this is where the insurance companies make sense ... they take what we hope is a minimal yet optimal amount from each person each month ... with the calculated risk that of the millions of us that pool that money only a small percentage will have significant illnesses, lawsuits or other claims against that larger sum. Plus ... the insurer has to eat too ... I hope this makes it a little clearer for you. If not ...just think about the thousands of people who give false names at hospitals even while undergoing major procedures costing hundreds of thousands and then stick it to the taxpayers!! Funny thing is that while they are doing this they are sending billions by western union union overseas to their "homes." Well the USA is my home ... and I am sure tired of freeloaders!!

      November 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Portland tony

    I have seen too many families use the ER as their "family doctor". And most of these folks work but just can't afford health insurance. Someone is paying for their visits and that's you Mr taxpayer. Until someone comes up with a better plan, I'm gonna support Obamacare or what ever it's called. It may not be perfect, but it's a hell of a shot better than the third world system we have now!

    November 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Bravo ! Well said !!

      November 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • WeAreThe97Percent

      Who's Mr. Taxpayers?

      The rich pp!!! They pay most of our tax.

      Should I feel pity for them?

      November 15, 2011 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. SeriousFellow

    What's the difference between having to buy health insurance and having to buy auto insurance? In most states, purchasing auto insurance is a requirement for obtaining a driver's license. And in many states (mine included), you have to pay a substantial penalty for not having having auto insurance. The opponents of health care reform need to wake up and realize what the real costs are.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • AreUSerious

      You answered your own question, the states mandate liability insurance. There is no federal mandate to buy it. Plus the insurance is there to protect others, not yourself, from physical harm. Health care mandate has no effect on someone else's well being, only your own.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muldoon in Ohio

      Medicare and Medicaid are federally mandated programs, and everyone has to pay – it's taken right out of your pay check, and it is a direct benefit to those who pay into it.

      November 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • It is a condition of the right to drive on public roads

      The difference between auto insurance and health insurance is that you have the option to forgo auto insurance. I lived in NY and DC for years without a car. But under Obamacare, you are forced to purchase health insurance simply for being alive. If the federal government is allowed to make you purchase health insurance under the Commerce Clasue, there is no principled distinction between that and making you buy a health club membership or spend a certain amount of your income on vegetables, because they affect your health. Some people are fine with living in a nation where the government has that authority. I am not.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MTV"s - Bevis n Butthead

    Huh huuh .... @ robert ... Keep it short OK PAL ! Its just a blog/comment site .... Ur not writeing an essay !! Huh huuh U DUM A$$ !!...... U must be related to BEVIS or something !...

    November 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Muldoon in Ohio

    An unfavorable ruling means that 50 million will continue to go without medical insurance while the rest of us pay for them to get medical care in emergency rooms. Obama would have been smart if he had made it part of Medicare/Medicaid regulations – then it would have become part of IRS, where it is deducted from everyone's pay.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. wolfen

    Firstly, I disagree with how the outcome affects Obama. If its confirmed, the right will be energized to a degree they have rarely seen in an effort to repeal the law by winning the presidency and as much of the congress as possible. If Obama loses, oh well he tried and its a non-issue in the election.
    There are 2 ways America can lose in this process. First, lose the case outright, that means that we have an elected monarchy with unlimited powers, similar to what we fought to leave. Secondly, if the court splits 5-4 along the predicted lines, then politics rules and the SCOTUS is mearly a political pawn of whomever gets to nominate justices.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • lamben

      @wolfen. At stake is America's health, for better or for worse. We've always had politics at stake, however, the health issues we are facing are new and recent in our history. We didn't always have an AIDS pnademic nor have we always had a nationwide childhood obesity epidemic. (not to mention their parents) We haven't alway's had our national treasury robbed to support the occupations of other nations either. We used to use Social Security for the elderly. Now, even a drunk bumb who has squandered his life away can get social security disability simply by hiring a late night TV ad lawyer to sue the SSA, who simply cannot afford to defend our treasury fighting millions of lawsuits.

      Our healthcare system WILL be totally reformed, as will the way tha we deal with those whom defraud US. We will see it becoming harder and harder for peple to get not only street drugs, but also Big-Pharma's copycat expensive versions. This reform is just the beginning. Wikileaks Big-Pharma will give you a clue about how deep it goes, and how much it costs US. Everyone alreadu knows that the CIA moved to Denver in 2006 and is helping the overwhelmed FBI investigate fraudulent pharmaceuticals. (Drugs prescribed for profit RATHER than for health) The largest pharmaceutical bust in US history happened earlier this year when the CIA/FBI took-down over 300 "doktors" in one sweep. 300 down, 300,000 to go.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MTV"s - Bevis n Butthead

    Bevis ! These comments "like really Suc" ! U know what else sucs ? "this story sucs even more bevis"......

    November 14, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. About our "Supreme" Court

    How the Supreme Court "works". 1.) About 5,000 cases per year are presented to the S.C. 2.) Not all cases are heard. 3.) Justices circulate 'legal briefs' and each Justice [judge] reads and studies them seperately. 4.) Justices then circulate an "discuss list". 4.) Court must decide if it even has jurisdiction. 5.) If at least 4 Justice's believe the case should be 'heard', the case is then 'heard' by the Supreme Court. 5.) Of the 5,000 or so cases presented, only about 150-200 result in the S.C. giving US their opinion. 6.) In the ENTIRE history of the Supreme Court, less than 200 cases were actual cases where the Supreme Court did in fact have Jurisdiction. 7.) It is up to the Legislative Branch of Government to tell the S.C. to sit down and STFU when they give US their "opinions" that have the majority of US bending to the will of the minority. 8.) Our Legislature's have been taken over by men whom cheat on their wives and so side with abortion for obvious reasons, and by openly gay men and women whom think sodomy should be enjoyed by everyone who likes it. 9.) THIS will all end when the already written Victory Act of Congress gets signed into Law. 10.) Truly Gay and Happy Day's will be here again, I get to be Fonzi.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Sidney A. Dewberry

    The health needs of America is SO dire AND the Health Industry is SO out-of-step w/ reality. With congress LITERALLY bought off by them- no doubt some that moola will find its way into the Supreme Court as well. Can you believe they paid our congressmen 940 million in 2010 ?? We the People can't compete against them AT ALL. How can the Republicans be honest and lawyer for them also ????

    November 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. carlos mendez

    If the Supreme Court review the case and vote for it, it's because some members of the Supreme Court were appointed by Obummer and they will now return his reward.

    November 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • lamben

      @carlos. If our highest court is contaminated, what chance the rest of US? It's like the shoplifter pointing the finger at the congressperson caught hiding cash. Or like the overly promiscuous woman making fun of Monica Lewinsky for being fat. If our Supreme Court has been corrupted, what does that say about the rest of US.

      November 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. leeintulsa

    Mandating health insurance...

    It's wrong in many ways.

    People who don't drive don't buy auto insurance, but every american will have to buy health insurance. And driving is a privilege. No one *has* to drive. Similarities between health and auto are superficial at best..

    Buying insurance is gambling. You are betting on something bad happening to you. Might be a good bet. But if you lose, and live a long, healthy life, you lose *big* cuz you keep on living.. And paying..

    Maybe instead of insurance – something more like a interest earning savings account earmarked for medical/life. Something that you can pay medical out of as needed, and pays to bury you – whatever's left after going to heirs.. Like, 5 percent of your check automatically goes into this account forever and ever amen..?

    Buying insurance just makes insurance companies rich. Why not make ourselves rich?

    November 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      If you don't want auto insurance, don't drive.

      If you don't want health insurance, stop living.

      Seems simple to me.

      November 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      It maybe good for you in perfect health. But if you have a spouse and a few kids....Are you willing to use the ER for their health care? The current set up really doesn't work. And it's obvious you haven't visited a hospital or doctor lately because that 5% out an average paycheck wouldn't take care of a broken leg!

      November 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. RV1982

    Why not just tax everyone for the cost of a basic health insurance plan, and then reimburse the tax to those that choose to purchase a plan with equal or greater coverage. No state or person is questioning the authority of Congress to tax and provide a service. It is obvious to me, an I am sure it will be obvious to the Supreme Court that Congress just tried to sidestep the tax issue. To bad for Obama.

    November 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. j

    The government already makes me spend money (in the form of taxes) on wars I might not support, and to upkeep roads that I might not use, and to fund schools that are under-performing and molesting children.

    Yes, the government has the right to make you pay for something that you personally don't like, if it's deemed necessary for the good of everyone. Health care is in the same vein.

    November 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mmmmm

    ...imma against mandatory car insurance repeal that...since when the govt can compel business and profit for a private industry which never operate at a about the biggest ripoff. They even throw in the lying dog bone that your premiums would go down. Repeal that you morons...people can't even afford to insure a teenage driver...that's like an extinct species on the road. The banks, insurance companies, and corporations are robbing us blind.

    November 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mmmmm

    deregulation means the sky is the limit when it comes to stealing from the consumer....

    November 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
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