What’s the rush?
Court’s move could mean reform ruling will land in the heat of 2012 elections
Early last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to punch the ticket that would have allowed one of the legal challenges to the healthcare reform law to ride an express train to the nation’s highest court. Justices voted unanimously to reject “fast tracking” oral arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of a key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the mandate to require individuals to buy health insurance. The challenge emanates from a lawsuit filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli against the federal government.
While the high court made no comment and observers say no conclusions about the lawsuit’s merits should be drawn from the decision, the justices’ action—inaction, actually— means the legal process will play out as it normally would, without any early interference.
The standard for granting expedited challenges to the Supreme Court, which are exceedingly rare, is whether “the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination.” Do the constitutional questions and principles involving the reform law meet the criteria? Apparently not, judging by the 9-0 decision.
Part of the reason for the inaction also could stem from the fact that arguments in the Virginia case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond are scheduled to begin in a matter of days, with some indicators pointing to the case finally making it to the Supreme Court during the term that will begin in October. And then possibly look for a decision to be handed down in the thick of the 2012 presidential election. It will be high drama no matter which way the justices rule. So given that the next stage of appeal in this case is imminent, why would there be a need to rush to early intervention?
After the high court’s decision not to go the fast-track route, Virginia’s Cuccinelli issued the following statement: “We asked the United States Supreme Court for expedited review of our lawsuit because Virginia and other states are already spending huge sums to implement their portions of the healthcare act, businesses are already making decisions about whether to cut or keep employee health plans, and citizens are in limbo until the Supreme Court rules. Asking the court to expedite our lawsuit was about removing this crippling and costly uncertainty as quickly as possible.”
Naturally, there is some legal uncertainty given the conflicting rulings by several federal judges. To date, three have ruled that the Affordable Care Act passes constitutional muster, while two judges have ruled just the opposite regarding the individual mandate. One jurist in Florida stated in his ruling that since the unlawful individual mandate was the linchpin of the reform package, the whole thing was essentially void. He later backtracked on that.
What jumps out from Cuccinelli’s statement is the word “crippling.” We’ve been crippled by the legal skirmishes over the Affordable Care Act? Really? And do we truly find ourselves in limbo because of this? It’s more over-the-top rhetoric that now seems to come with the territory whenever the healthcare reform law is discussed. The sky is always falling.
Plenty of the challenges facing our nation, especially our economy, could cripple us. Unemployment levels remain devastatingly high. Our stockpile of national debt could one day crowd out so much of our country’s treasure that it becomes catastrophic. Even today’s surging fuel prices, because of their ripple effect, threaten the nascent economic recovery.
For healthcare, however, it’s not the year-old reform law that’s crippling; it’s the specter of the alternative.
DAVID MAY Assistant Managing