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Way cleared for health care challenge (UPDATED)

Final update 1:13 pm


The Supreme Court on Monday arranged for a Virginia university to go forward with new challenges to two key sections of the new federal health care law — the individual and employer mandates to have insurance coverage.  The Court did so by returning the case of Liberty University v. Geithner (docket 11-438) to the Fourth Circuit Court to consider those challenges.  The Court last Term had simply denied review of Liberty University’s appeal, but on Monday wiped out that order and agreed to send the case back to the appeals court in Richmond for further review.

The Court did not grant any new cases, but did dispose of one new case with a summary ruling.  In Nitro-Lift Technologies v. Howard (11-1377), the Court ruled that the Oklahoma Supreme Court was wrong in preventing arbitration of a dispute over the scope of non-competition agreements in employment contracts.

Among the Court’s more significant orders denying review, it refused to hear a claim that the Constitution requires states to allow an accused an opportunity to use insanity as a defense to a criminal charge.   The case of Delling v. Idaho (11-1515) was denied over the dissents of three Justices — Stephen G. Breyer, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.  (Disclosure: attorneys who have roles in the publication of this blog were involved as attorneys in this case.  The author of this post operates independently of their law practice.)

The Court’s decision last Term on the new health care law upheld, under Congress’s power to tax, the requirement that virtually all Americans have health insurance by 2014, or pay a penalty.   That is the individual mandate.  The law also contains a somewhat similar mandate, requiring all employers with more than fifty employees to provide them with adequate insurance coverage.  The Court had declined to rule on that issue last Term.

Liberty University has been pursuing a challenge to both mandates, based on claims that they violate rights to religious freedom or to legal equality under the Constitution.  It also challenges the employer mandate on the theory that it was beyond Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.  The Fourth Circuit had not ruled on any of those claims, because it ruled that Liberty was barred by the federal Anti-Injunction Act from suing to stop those mandates.  That is one of the issues the Circuit Court will have to reconsider when the case is returned there. The Justices cleared the way for doing so by vacating and remanding the Circuit Court’s earlier decision.

The Obama Administration did not oppose the action announced Monday.  However, it did tell the Court that it thinks that none of Liberty’s remaining challenges has legal merit and that, in any event, its challenge to the employer mandate was blocked by the Anti-Injunction Act.  Presumably, the Administration will renew those arguments in the Fourth Circuit.

The Court’s denial of review in the insanity defense left undisturbed an Idaho law declaring that an accused’s “mental condition shall not be a defense to any charge of criminal conduct.”  That law was among those passed in a handful of states abolishing the insanity defense, in the wake of the verdict in the case of John W. Hinckley, accused of the attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, that Hinckley was not guilty by reason of insanity.  Only three other states now have laws like Idaho’s.  State courts are divided on whether the Constitution requires such a defense, but the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue.

Among the other new cases that were denied review on Monday were these:

* Thaler v. McGowen (12-82), testing whether the failure to give a jury in a death penalty case a full opportunity to consider evidence against imposing that sentence can ever be excused as harmless error.    The Fifth Circuit Court holds the view that harmless error analysis cannot be applied in that situation.

* California Table Grape Commission v. Delano Farms (11-13710), a petition arguing that the federal government has given up its immunity to a lawsuit claiming that patents owned by the federal government are invalid.  The case was a test of three patents held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on three varieties of table grapes.  The Federal Circuit Court allowed a lawsuit against those patents by three California grape growers to go forward.  The Agriculture Department did not pursue an appeal of its own in the case, and urged the Court not to hear the Commission appeal on the ground that that state agency was not a proper party to raise the immunity question.

* Cummings v. Doughty (12-351), a case seeking legal immunity for a bank and its officers if they report suspicious fund activity to federal officials, as federal law requires that they do.  The case revolved around a 1992 federal law requiring such reports, and promising some form of immunity to lawsuits in response.   Louisiana state courts ruled that the immunity grant was only a qualified one, not complete immunity as the bank in the case had contended.




Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Way cleared for health care challenge (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Nov. 26, 2012, 9:33 AM),