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Your 2011-12 Guide to Key U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Health reform, Medicaid, consumer rights and more

The new term of the U.S. Supreme Court, which begins today, could be a blockbuster, with the court likely taking up the constitutionality of President Obama's health care reform law.

See also: Who are the justices on the Supreme Court?

Couple standing before the Supreme Court - a preview of cases coming before SCOTUS in 2011-12 that will affect people over 50

The high court will decide issues relevant to older adults. — Photo by Getty Images; Jose Fuste Raga/Corbis

"This issue may precipitate the most important clash between the court and the executive branch since the New Deal," according to an AARP Foundation Litigation analysis. "The court's opinion may impact jurisprudence and the direction of this country for decades to come."

The court has accepted a little more than half the cases it will hear during the term. On the docket so far are cases involving Medicaid, consumer credit rights, biomedical patents and other topics with special significance for people 50-plus.

Legality of the health care law

The court has not yet agreed to hear one of the challenges to the Affordable Care Act making their way through the courts, but five federal appellate courts have issued contradictory decisions. The high court will need to settle the matter.

The court could grant review in Thomas More Law Center v. Obama from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the so-called individual mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

The court could also choose a more prominent case, namely Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from the 11th Circuit, which held the individual mandate was unconstitutional. The Obama administration signaled Sept. 26 that it wants to move this case along when it didn't ask for another review by the 11th Circuit, increasing the chances the Supreme Court could get the case more quickly. Florida v. HHS was brought by mostly Republican attorneys general and governors in 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business and two individuals. The court received petitions for review on Sept. 28 from the state officials, the NFIB and the Obama administration.

A central issue is whether Congress overstepped its constitutional authority with the individual mandate. The law also greatly expands Medicaid and contains measures to help older people live independently rather than in institutions.

If the court accepts a case by January, it is expected to rule by the end of the term in June 2012 — right in the middle of the presidential and congressional campaign season.

Next: Medicaid reimbursement. >>

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