The embattled act has been in the courts since six minutes after Obama used 22 pens to sign the bill into law at 11:56 a.m. on March 23, 2010. At 12:02 p.m., Bill McCollum, then attorney general of Florida, filed a federal lawsuit in Pensacola on behalf of Florida, several other states, the National Federation of Independent Business and two individuals. A total of 25 states, led by Republicans, joined in the challenge, Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services.
The district court judge ruled the mandate to purchase insurance unconstitutional Jan. 31 and struck down the entire law. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit ruled, 2-1, on Aug. 12 that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but said the mandate could be severed and the rest of the law could stand. The ruling directly conflicted with a ruling by the 6th Circuit upholding the law.
The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court.
The court allotted 5 1/2 hours for oral arguments, apparently a modern record, according to longtime court journalist Lyle Denniston. The court normally limits oral arguments to one hour per case. The lengthy argument time reflects the complexity of the case and the importance the justices place on the division of power between states and the national government, Denniston wrote on SCOTUSblog.com.
About 30 federal lawsuits challenging the law have been filed around the country, and controversy continues to swirl around the law. On Nov. 8, voters in Ohio approved, 2-1, a state constitutional amendment rejecting any state law requiring people to purchase insurance.
That same day, the law's supporters were encouraged when a conservative judge upheld the law. Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan judicial appointee in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, rejected claims that Congress overstepped its authority.
And so the Supreme Court will have the last word in a battle over the scope of government between a Democratic president and his Republican opponents. Whatever the justices decide likely will define the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for the history books.
Also of interest: How the GOP plans to roll back health reform.
Marsha Mercer is a freelance writer who covers public policy issues.