Challenges to Federal Health Law Escalate

By: - September 30, 2011 12:00 am

The legal battle over the federal health overhaul has not been tidy. Within months of its passage, 26 separate lawsuits were filed against it, several involving states. In the year-and-a-half since, federal courts have ruled both for and against the law and appeals decisions have varied widely. But this week, all eyes were on just one case — Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services .

On Wednesday (September 28) the U.S. Department of Justice, along with 26 states and a small-business group, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule as quickly as possible on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, making a decision nearly certain by next summer.

Here’s a quick look at appeals court rulings so far. In every case, plaintiffs charged the law’s “individual mandate,” which penalizes those who fail to sign up for health insurance, is unconstitutional. Some cases also charged the law’s expansion of Medicaid places an unfair financial burden on states.

     • In June, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati  upheld  the federal health law, in a case brought by the Thomas More Law Center.

     • In August, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with states in  ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. It is this decision that the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to overturn. States and businesses would like to see an even more sweeping ruling against the federal law.

     • Also in August, two appeals cases were dismissed. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, California  dismissed   a case brought by Steve Baldwin and the Pacific Justice Institute. Another case, brought by New Jersey Physicians, an interest group representing doctors, was  dismissed by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

     • In early September, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond rejected two other lawsuits. In one case, brought by Liberty University, the court  said  the case could not be tried until the individual mandate takes effect in 2014. In the other — brought by the state of Virginia — the judges  ruled  the state lacked legal standing.

     • Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in a case brought by the American Center for Law and Justice.

In October, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in a case brought by Missouri Lt. Gov Peter Kinder. More than 20 other lawsuits — several involving state officials — are still winding their way through lower federal courts.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.