The Supreme Court’s landmark series of decisions on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in June of this year may not be the last word on the matter. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to rehear a lawsuit challenging the law’s mandate that companies and organizations with more than 50 employees provide health care or pay a penalty.
Although the Supreme Court had upheld the requirement that all Americans have insurance or pay a fine (technically, a tax) — the so-called individual mandate — it declined to rule on this employer mandate. Liberty University, a small Christian school in Virginia, had argued that such a mandate, which included requirements to cover reproductive health services, violated its First Amendment freedom of religion because such services were counter to its religious teachings.
After it first heard the case, the Fourth Circuit ruled against Liberty, holding that the Federal Anti-Injunction Act prohibited a challenge to the provision until it went into effect in 2014. Part of the Supreme Court’s June decision, however, was that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply to the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Liberty then asked the Court to instruct the Fourth Circuit to rehear the case in light of the decision and rule on the merits of the case — which the Court did last Monday.
Of note is that the Obama Administration did not object to Liberty’s request, although it did state that the suit had no merit.
Opponents of the law are hoping that the recent action opens the door for the case to eventually make it back to the Supreme Court, where they will get a more favorable outcome this time around. It wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory that a decision upholding a high-profile piece of legislation has been undermined in subsequent cases. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform of 2002 was validated by the court in McConnell v. Federal Elections Commission in 2003, but was eventually substantively reversed in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. and Citizens United v. FEC. Could health care reform suffer the same fate? Only time will tell.