The Supreme Court has refused to rule on the health care law until lower courts have issued rulings. Image: Flickr / tabor-roeder / CC-BY

Even before being signed into law, the health care reform bill has been heavily debated. Now the Supreme court has issued a ruling that will force each case against the law to be heard through all lower courts first. This ruling means that U.S. healthcare reform could be tied up in the courts for years.

Health care reform lawsuits thus far

Thus far, there have been 25 separate lawsuits filed against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Most of these cases focus on the “individual mandate” portion of the act, which requires all taxpayers to carry some form of health insurance by 2014. These cases are currently being heard mostly in district courts. On the local court level, Republican-appointed judges have consistently ruled against the law, while Democrat-appointed judges have consistently ruled for the law. Legal experts estimate that at least one of these court cases will eventually end up in the Supreme Court, though it could be two years or more before any of the cases end up on the docket.

Virginia requests expedited hearing

In the case of Virginia v. Sebelius, lawyers requested an expedited hearing from the Supreme Court. Lawyers representing the state hoped that by getting a ruling from the Supreme Court immediately, the issue could be settled. The Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli asked for the review because of a “palpable consensus in this country that the question of PPACA’s constitutionality must be and will be decided in this court.” The Supreme Court, however, rejected this request, noting that the law will not be fully in effect until 2014 and that extra time in lower courts is necessary for a good decision. Receiving an expedited hearing through the Supreme Court is very rare.

Questions of judges recusing

In Virginia v. Sebelius, all justices participated in the ruling. This has ruffled feathers on both sides of the debate. Ninety House Democrats have requested that Justice Clarence Thomas recuse himself because his wife has lobbied against the bill. Many House and Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have suggested that Justice Elena Kagan should recuse herself, because she acted as solicitor general for the federal government at the time the law was debated and signed.


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