The Affordable Care Act: Will it Be Upheld or Overturned?

June 27, 2012

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will make one of the biggest decisions in American legal history as it weighs the constitutionality of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act for short). This means that the Court will decide whether or not the Act as a whole, or in part, can legally be put into effect according to the U.S. Constitution. To many people, what the Supreme Court does is a huge mystery. There is a lot of tradition and procedure that goes along with the hearing of a Supreme Court case, and despite the fact that no cameras are allowed into the courtroom, much of the public’s interest lies in what decision will come out of the nation’s highest court on Thursday.

The Supreme Court, which gets requests to hear around 5,000 cases a year, only hears fewer than 150. Multiple cases in the lower courts involving the Affordable Care Act have been appealed to the Supreme Court. In one case, four individual citizens represented by the Thomas More Law Center sued President Obama, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Treasury, thereby challenging the constitutionality of the Act. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld a District Court’s ruling of the Act as constitutional, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In the case to be ruled on, 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business and a number of individuals challenged the Act’s health insurance mandate and Medicaid expansion. 

An issue with the Act in both of the above cases is the individual mandate component. The question arises of whether the government can constitutionally make an individual purchase health insurance. One side of the argument is that the Commerce Clause in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) gives the government the right to regulate commerce among states, and since health insurance involves interstate commerce, the government can require an individual to purchase insurance. On the other side, opponents claim that government making any individual purchase compulsory violates individual freedoms and is outside Congress’s power.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court’s ruling about the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality is already made and has been veiled in secrecy. An article by the Huffington Post discusses the consequences of a potential leak of a Supreme Court decision before it is officially released. The author points out the dire social and professional consequences of such an event for the disclosing individual and implies that it is less likely to happen than leaks in other branches of government.

Whether the information could have been leaked or not, it would be impossible to verify any statements until they are official, and we will all have to wait until tomorrow to find out. If the Act is affirmed, it will impact the U.S. population as well as state governments by the time it is fully implemented in 2014. For specifics on the details of the Act, visit the White House’s Healthcare Reform webpage.


Derek Dissinger is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Duquesne University and practices in a variety of areas.