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Court to rule on Medicaid cuts

The Supreme Court, in the early stages of setting up the cases it will decide during its next Term, agreed on Tuesday to decide whether patients receiving Medicaid benefits, and the providers who serve their health care needs, have a right under the Constitution to challenge a state’s reduction of benefit payments.  The Court granted three separate petitions by California officials, but consolidated them for argument and decision together. This was the only newly granted case.

In separate orders, the Court chose to stay out of two significant controversies: the first of a series of new challenges by Guantanamo Bay detainees to the methods lower federal courts are using in deciding whether to allow continued captivity of those prisoners, and an attempt by opponents of same-sex marriage in Washington, D.C., to test the issue in a local election.   Justice Elena Kagan remained out of the denial of review in the Guantanamo cases, raising the question whether she would participate in any of the eight new cases testing the habeas challenges by those detainees.

The Court did not specify when it would hold an argument on the consolidated cases from California on Medicaid benefit cuts, but it did not expedite briefing in the case, thus indicating that it would probably go over to the Term starting on Oct. 3.   The three cases are Maxwell-Jolly v. Independent Living Center (09-958), Maxwell-Jolly v. California Pharmacists (09-1158), and Maxwell-Jolly v. Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital (10-283).   A one-hour argument will be held on the three.

The state officials in those cases also sought to raise other issues, about the steps that state officials must take, under federal Medicaid law, before they may cut benefit levels.  The Court opted not to hear those questions, limiting its review to the same question in each case: that is, whether Medicaid recipients and providers may sue state officials, relying upon the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, to enforce federal Medicaid law as preempting state law-based reductions of reimbursement for care of the poor.

The Court had asked for the federal government’s views, and the Solicitor General’s office urged a denial of all three cases.  The Court did not follow that advice.

The Court’s action in the Guantanamo case — Al-Adahi v. Obama (10-487) — raised an immediate question of whether the Court will take on any of several disputes over the judicial procedures being used in lower federal courts to implement the Justices’ 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush, establishing a constitutional right for Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their detention in U.S. courts.   The Court has granted review of only one post-Boumediene case in the past two years, and that one ended without a ruling.  The Justices have seven other Guantanamo cases on their docket now, and more are on the way; many raise issues about what habeas procedures and standards should be used by the District Court judges initially handling those cases, as well as by the D.C. Circuit Court as it reviews appeals in those cases.

If Justice Kagan is recused from all of the cases, the prospect that the Court might divide 4-4 if it took on any of these cases might have been a deterrent to a grant of review.  A 4-4 split on a reviewed case simply results in upholding a lower court decision, without setting a precedent for other cases.

In denying review of a petition in Jackson, et al., v. District of Columbia Elections Board (10-511), the Court bypassed a case on the volatile subject of same-sex marriage.  The local City Council in the nation’s capital has approved marriages of gays and lesbians, and a group of local citizens have been attempting to force that issue to a referendum of local voters.  City officials refused to allow a referendum, saying that it would violate the city’s human rights law, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As usual, the Court gave no reason for denying review of any of the cases turned away Tuesday.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Court to rule on Medicaid cuts, SCOTUSblog (Jan. 18, 2011, 11:42 AM),