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Justice Dept. asks court for speedy review of health care reform law

From Bill Mears and Carol Cratty, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A federal judge says no part of the law is valid because he tossed out a key provision
  • The Obama administration wants to know if parts of the law now in effect can go forward
  • The "individual mandate" provision targeted by the judge was to take effect in 2014

Washington (CNN) -- A U.S. appeals court has been asked by the Justice Department to speed up consideration of the sweeping health care reform law's constitutionality.

The request followed a ruling by a federal judge in Florida in January declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be legally invalid.

In a motion filed Wednesday with the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, administration lawyers suggested a speeded-up briefing schedule that could have the court holding oral arguments as soon as June or July.

That could ensure the Supreme Court may ultimately get the case as soon as late this year or early in 2012. Two other federal appeals courts are considering separate but similar legal challenges to the legislation passed in 2009.

The Obama administration says in its motion that quick consideration by the court is crucial, given the law is so comprehensive, affecting nearly all U.S. residents. There also are lingering legal questions about whether parts of the law currently in effect can still be enforced.

The 11th Circuit has not indicated whether it would agree to the expedited schedule, and there was no immediate response from lawyers representing Florida and 25 other states that had filed the original lawsuit opposing the law.

Under a normal timetable, consideration of such a complex civil case would take many months before a written ruling would be issued.

Judge Roger Vinson's original January 31 ruling was a victory for the 26 states. He concluded the "individual mandate" -- a key provision requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance or face financial penalties-- is unconstitutional.

When some states said they would refuse to recognize the law in the wake of Vinson's decision, the Obama administration sought specific guidance from the judge, claiming confusion over whether it could enforce parts of the law currently being implemented while the case continued through the legal system. The individual mandate was not to go into effect until 2014.

In response, Vinson, based in Pensacola, Florida, last week issued a temporary stay of his ruling while ordering the administration to expedite a notice of appeal over whether current parts of the law can remain temporarily in effect.

The Justice Department on Tuesday met the preliminary deadline set by Vinson, a 1983 Reagan appointee.

The parts of the health reform law currently being administered include small business tax credits, federal grants, and consumer protection measures.

The federal government wants to know whether these provisions can continue while the issue is under appeal, particularly in the 26 states that filed this lawsuit. Oklahoma and Virginia have filed separate legal challenges that are concurrently working their way through appeals courts in Cincinnati and Richmond.

The Affordable Care Act has about 450 individual components, placing a number of new or revised regulations on states, private insurance companies, employers, and individuals.

Vinson, while dismissing the health care reform law, did not issue a formal injunction to block either parts of or the entire law from going into effect. The judge also offered some support for various parts of the health care law. But he concluded that since the minimum coverage provision is invalid, no part of the 2,700-page law could be enforced.

Two federal judges have ruled the health care act to be constitutional, while two others have concluded the opposite. That sets up what is likely to be a Supreme Court showdown, perhaps sooner rather than later.

The appeals court case is Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (11-11021)

 
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