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U.S. appeals court sets June hearing on challenge to health care law

By the CNN Wire staff
  • A U.S. appeals court hearing on the heath care reform law is set for June 8
  • The court grants the Obama administration's request for a quick hearing
  • Two federal judges have ruled against the law, two others have ruled for it

(CNN) -- The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the nation's sweeping health care reform law on June 8, according to an order issued Thursday by the appellate court.

The order grants the Obama administration's motion for an early hearing, which could enable the Supreme Court to 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.

Administration lawyers had argued 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 Obama administration's request followed a ruling by a federal judge in Florida in January declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be legally invalid. Florida and 25 other states have filed suit 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, 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 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 -- one in Virginia and the other in Michigan -- have ruled the health care act to be constitutional, while two others -- Vinson in Florida and another judge in Virginia -- have concluded the opposite.

CNN's Bill Mears and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.