Analysis: The Long Road To A Supreme Court Decision On Health Law’s Mandate

Kaiser Health News

The HCLSC – health care litigation spin cycle – is in overdrive now that a Reagan-appointed federal judge has strongly signaled in court that he is very likely to follow a George W. Bush appointee who struck down the individual mandate at the heart of the new health care law.

Republican critics of the law were saying that “several” (that is, two) judges had found unconstitutional the requirement that Americans obtain insurance or pay penalties. Meanwhile, President Obama was saying: “We’ve got 12 federal courts who have dismissed similar lawsuits. So the majority of courts who looked at this issue so far are absolutely convinced that the health care bill is [constitutional].” Twelve! Sounds convincing. But Obama neglected to note that 10 of those lawsuits were mostly beside the point because they were not aimed at the individual mandate or were dismissed on grounds that did not uphold its constitutionality.

If counting judicial noses at this early stage were a reliable guide to the likely fate of the health care law on appeal, the score would stand at two Clinton-appointed judges, George Steeh and Norman Moon, upholding the individual mandate; Bush-appointed Henry Hudson striking it down Dec. 13, and Reagan-appointed Roger Vinson sounding during an oral argument on Dec. 16 like he would do the same. The four sit in Detroit; Lynchburg and Richmond, Va., and Tallahassee, Fla., respectively.

But district judges’ rulings tell us little or nothing about what the federal appeals courts and the Supreme Court will ultimately do with these cases. Below is an overview of the litigation, what it’s about, and how it’s likely to unfold.

How many health care lawsuits are there? More than 20 have been filed around the country, some going to the heart of the law and some peripheral.

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