The Justice Department on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of President Obama's landmark health reform law, increasing the likelihood of a high court ruling before the 2012 presidential election.
“The department has consistently and successfully defended this law in several court of appeals, and only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional. We believe the question is appropriate for review by the Supreme Court,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in August that the insurance coverage requirement in the health-care law is unconstitutional. Two other federal appeals courts have upheld the law.
The Justice filing asks the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of the constitutional challenge, even though the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled that states and individuals did not have the right to sue over the law until the penalty for not having health insurance—the individual mandate—takes effect in 2014.
The Justice Department did not say the 4th Circuit ruling was incorrect; it urged the justices to review the 11th Circuit decision and rule on the merits of the case now. The Supreme Court officially begins its 2011-12 term on Monday.
“While neither objection is valid, a case involving both States and individuals as challengers offers the Court the best opportunity to ensure that it can resolve these critically important issues on the merits,” Justice told the high court.
The Justice filing argues the health insurance requirement “substantially affects interstate commerce,” and that Congress has the power to require people to purchase health insurance under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The Obama administration also argued that the penalty paid by people who do not have insurance “operates as a tax.”
“The [11th Circuit] Court of Appeals’ contrary decision is fundamentally flawed and denies Congress the broad deference it is due in enacting laws to address the nation’s most pressing economic problems and set tax policy,” said the Justice appeal.
The formal petition to the high court was not unexpected. Earlier this week, Justice opted not to ask for a special, additional consideration of the 11th Circuit decision.
Also on Wednesday, plaintiffs including 26 states urged the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of the 2010 law.
Margot Sanger-Katz contributed