Washington (CNN) — Winners and losers are the natural consequence of the American legal system. In the Supreme Court, five majority votes among the nine members are enough to fundamentally change lives and legacies.
The high court in coming days will issue rulings in perhaps its most important appeal in a dozen years: whether the sweeping health care law championed by President Barack Obama will be tossed out as an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority.
The stakes cannot be overstated — what the justices decide on a quartet of separate questions will have immediate and long-term impact on every American, not only in the field of medicine but in vast, untold areas of “commerce.” Health care expenditures alone currently make up 18% of the U.S. economy, and the new law promises to significantly expand that share.
Five scenarios: Health care options before the justices
“I think the justices probably came into the argument with their minds made up. They had hundreds of briefs and months to study them,” said Thomas Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog.com and a prominent Washington attorney. “The oral arguments [in March] might have changed their minds around the margin. But we won’t find out until the end of June.”
A century of federal efforts to offer universal health care culminated in the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. After months of bare-knuckled fights over politics and policy, the legislation signed by Obama reached 2,700 pages, nine major sections and 450-some provisions.
At issue is the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” section — requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties. Twenty-six states in opposition say if that linchpin provision is unconstitutional, the entire law must go. The partisan debate around such a sweeping piece of legislation has encompassed traditional hot-button topics: abortion and contraception funding, state and individual rights, federal deficits, end-of-life care, and the overall economy. The high court now has the final word. The court will not say precisely when the health care opinions will be released, but the last scheduled public session of the term is set for June 25. Depending on how long it takes the justices to finish up, that deadline could easily slip a few days.
The justices have already secretly voted on the health care cases, as well as a dozen or so other separate appeals. They met privately as a group just days after the late March arguments, voting preliminarily. Individual justices were assigned to write the one or more opinions, as well as separate dissents. Only they and their law clerks know how this will end.
Continue reading on CNN >>