Court unlikely to hear Obama healthcare law now

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2011 10:23 AM

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court will likely reject a request to speed up a ruling on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul law, legal and financial analysts said.

The justices on Friday are scheduled to consider Virginia's request seeking to bypass the normal appeals process for a quicker ruling on the constitutionality of the law, which has been Obama's signature domestic accomplishment and has provoked a fierce political battle.

The analysts said such requests are rarely granted and the Supreme Court would likely allow the sweeping law to be considered first by the appeals court under the usual process.

They said that probably means any Supreme Court review of the law would be put off until its 2011-12 term that begins in October, depending on how fast the appeals courts rule.

The analysts said a high court decision then could come before the 2012 U.S. elections, in which the politically charged law could face renewed criticism from Republicans and could emerge as a major issue as Obama seeks re-election.

Kevin Russell, a Washington lawyer who argues before the Supreme Court, said it would be surprising if the justices granted Virginia's appeal seeking expedited review.

"The court has granted only a handful of such requests in the past and almost never over the objection of the federal government, which has opposed Virginia's request," he said.

Several federal trial judges around the nation have upheld the law but others declared it unconstitutional on the grounds Congress overstepped its authority in requiring that Americans start buying health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty.

Those rulings have been appealed with arguments set in May before a U.S. appeals court based in Virginia, in early June before appeals courts in Cincinnati and Atlanta and in September in Washington, D.C.

Washington lawyer David Frederick, who also argues before the court, said he expected the request to be denied.

"The court rarely grants review before the court of appeals has decided a case because the justices benefit from the lower court's analysis and reasoning," he said.

Since the legal challenges were filed after Obama signed the healthcare act into law more than a year ago, most legal experts have expected that the Supreme Court will eventually decide the law's constitutionality.

Besides Virginia, the law also has been challenged by more than half of the states. The law, which aims to provide more than 30 million uninsured Americans with medical coverage, has wide ramifications for the health sector, affecting health insurers, drugmakers, device companies and hospitals.

Debate over the law dominated U.S. politics in 2009 and it galvanized Republicans who warned about its cost and said it was evidence of intrusive government power.

Rick Weissenstein, a healthcare analyst with MF Global's Washington Research Group, said in a research note last month that expediting the case was unlikely and predicted a Supreme Court decision then could come before the 2012 elections.

The justices could announce their decision on Virginia's request after their Friday private meeting or on Monday.

(Editing by Bill Trott)