Where the case is going
The case will be heard by Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee. His decision on State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is expected early next year, but both sides agree that won't be the last word.
"There will be an appeal on whatever the judge rules," said Jane Perkins, legal director of the National Health Law Program in Carrboro, N.C. "This case is going to the Supreme Court."
While controversy over the law has centered on questions of policy, cost and social welfare, Vinson wrote in a 65-page opinion in October that it's important to recognize what the case is not about.
"It matters not whether the Act is wise or unwise, or whether it will positively or negatively impact healthcare and the economy," he wrote. "I am only charged with deciding if the Act is constitutional."
If it is constitutional, the law must be upheld, "even if it a bad law," he said, and if it is not, the legislation must be struck down, "even if it is a good law."
Vinson also wrote that the states were on "wobbly legs" with their claim that Medicaid was coercive. Legal tea-leaf readers saw that statement as favorable to the government's case, at least regarding Medicaid, but nobody is predicting the outcome in Pensacola.
To help Vinson decide the health law case, nearly 20 friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed. Such disparate voices as incoming Republican House Speaker John Boehner; the Democratic governors of Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington; three Nobel laureates in economics; scores of members of Congress; and groups ranging from AARP to the Young Invincibles, which speaks for students and youth ages 18 to 34, have weighed in on various legal aspects.
The parties involved
States joining Florida in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Participants in the brief supporting the Medicaid provisions, besides AARP, include the National Health Law Program, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Children's Dental Health Project, Families USA, Florida Advocacy Center for People With Disabilities, Florida Pediatric Society/Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, Florida Community Health Action Information Network, Gray Panthers, Human Services Coalition of Dade County, Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Florida, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, National Disability Rights Network, National Partnership for Women and Families, SEIU Florida Healthcare, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and Voices for America's Children.
Marsha Mercer is a writer based in Alexandria, Va.