The healthcare reform law included an individual mandate to purchase insurance as a way to help insurers manage their risk pool because the law also forbids insurers from excluding sick people or placing lifetime caps on insurance benefits. A federal judge in Richmond, Va., found the requirement to buy insurance exceeded Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce, while another federal judge in Lynchburg, Va., has upheld the law.
Both judges' findings have been granted expedited review in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, with back-to-back hearings scheduled for May.
Cuccinelli said that wasn't fast enough, given that cash-strapped states and businesses will be required to expend “enormous amounts of resources” to implement a law that may be struck down in the courts.
Tracy Schmaler, spokesperson for the Justice Department, said going through the expedited appeal process won't affect when the Supreme Court could hear the case since the earliest round of oral arguments before the court is slated for October anyway.
Legal observers have said that under the normal appeals process, the public would not have a final ruling from the Supreme Court for up to two years.
Although experts say conventional wisdom holds that President Barack Obama's signature domestic initiative would face an uphill battle before a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, they also say it's not necessarily a clear-cut case because of the novelty of the issue.
As currently framed, the central legal question that would go before the Supreme Court is whether the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate economic inactivity as part of an overall regulatory regime for the healthcare industry.
Proponents say private citizens' decisions not to buy insurance unfairly drive up overall insurance rates, while critics say the laudable goal of expanding insurance access doesn't give Congress the right to overstep its enumerated constitutional powers.