Administration Decision Clears the Way For a Summer 2012 Supreme Court Ruling on ObamaCare's Individual Mandate


It looks likely the Supreme Court will rule on ObamaCare's individual mandate before the next election. Via Politico:  

The Obama administration chose not to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear a pivotal health reform case Monday, signaling that it's going to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether President Barack Obama's health reform law is constitutional.

The move puts the Supreme Court in the difficult position of having to decide whether to take the highly politically charged case in the middle of the presidential election.

The Justice Department is expected to ask the court to overturn an August decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the law's requirement to buy insurance is unconstitutional. The suit was brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business, and several individuals.

Since the ruling, the Justice Department had until Monday to ask the entire 11th Circuit to review the case. Administration lawyers didn't file the paperwork by the 5 p.m. deadline, so the ruling would stand unless the Justice Department asks the Supreme Court to step in.

A number of observers had expected that the Obama administration would ask for the 11th Circuit to re-hear the case in order to delay a ruling by the Supreme Court until after the election. But it looks like they wanted to get it over with, and highlight the Court's ruling, whatever it turns out to be.  

Does this suggest that the administration is confident that it will win when the Court rules on the mandate? Perhaps. Opponents of the mandate have always faced an uphill battle, and while the case against the requirement has probably gotten stronger as various courts have ruled in its favor—remember, even critics originally expected challengers to have virtually no chance at all—it's probably still true that the odds favor the administration. 

But even for the most knowledgable observers, predicting a Supreme Court ruling months in advance is mostly a guessing game. We don't even know with absolute certainty that the Court will agree to hear the case at all, although it would be very surprising if they didn't. 

What this suggests, then, is that regardless of Court's decision, the administration wants to ensure that ObamaCare in general and the mandate in specific will be major issues in the 2012 election. And that presumably means that they've got their arguments ready and are confident they'll work. If the mandate is upheld, Obama will claim constitutional victory, and argue that Republicans pursued a frivolous challenge in service of political gain. If not, he'll presumably argue that the challenge itself represented a partisan attack by political foes who aren't interested in fixing the health care system and that America's court system has become hopelessly biased by an extremist conservative judiciary that's in the thrall of the Republican party. 

To some extent, ObamaCare would've become a major campaign issue anyway. But with a definitive ruling on the mandate now likely next summer, it's virtually guaranteed that the law, and the Court's decision to either uphold the mandate or strike it down, will become major election-season battles.

It's an odd decision in some respects. A Supreme Court decision in the administration's favor could help them make the case for the law. But given the mandate's deep unpopularity, it also might provoke a backlash. Regardless, a favorable decision is in no way a sure thing.

More to the point, the White House hasn't been terribly successful defending its most significant legislative achievement so far. Perhaps the administration is simply hoping this will play well with a base it needs to motivate in order to win. But ObamaCare's base isn't all that big: Pollster.com's poll aggregate reports that only 38 percent of the public currently support the law. But for whatever reason, the administration seems to have decided that it wants to make the case for ObamaCare yet again.