Healthcare Showdown at the Supreme Court (Part 4)

With Obamacare heading to the Supreme Court on March 26, Legal Lad explores the 4 major issues facing the highest court in the land. Today: the "Anti-Injunction Act"

Adam Freedman
March 23, 2012

This is the fourth and final post in my series on the major issues at stake in next week’s arguments at the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the new federal health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Check out the first three posts on the individual mandate, severability, and Medicaid expansion.

This last one is an issue that only a lawyer could love: whether the legal challenges to the ACA individual mandate are premature under the Anti-Injunction Act.

The Anti-injunction Act is a law going back to the 19th century that prohibits lawsuits challenging a federal tax provision if that provision has not actually gone into effect. Even though ACA isn’t exactly a tax law, the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance is a form of tax; or at least , the ACA inserts the penalty provisions into the tax code.  

The odd thing is, none of the parties to the ACA lawsuits argue that the lawsuits are barred by the Anti-Injunction Act; even the Obama administration which, of course, opposes the lawsuits.  

However, the Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the Anti-Injunction Act applies and so the Supreme Court justices decided that they would have to address the issue for the sake of completeness.  If the High Court rules that the Anti-Injunction Act applies, then all legal challenges to the individual mandate will have to be postponed until 2014, when the mandate and its penalty provision actually kick in and become law. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock



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