A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will consider whether a lower court was correct in striking down the requirement. But they will not be the final arbiter in a fight that is expected to reach the Supreme Court. Legal scholars see the case as pivotal because it is the first to have oral arguments before an appeals courts. That means its ruling could affect other courts and become the first challenge to the law to reach the high court.
The healthcare law, which requires Americans to buy insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty, was a major victory for President Obama, one that the Republican party is working to undo in the courts, statehouses and Congress. Republican opponents are expected to make the issue a theme during his 2012 re-election bid by arguing it is a costly and unnecessary government expansion. They have already sought to repeal and choke off funds for the law in Congress.
U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia last year ruled that Congress exceeded its authority by forcing Americans to buy health insurance, a key piece of the law aimed at keeping premiums low through ensuring everyone buys coverage. Virginia had passed a law barring the federal government from making its citizens buy health insurance. The state filed a legal challenge arguing that the federal government cannot penalize citizens for not buying goods or services under the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause.