(CN) - Florida's challenge to the nation's new health care law, which a federal appeals court agreed was unconstitutional this summer, will go to the U.S. Supreme Court before the 2012 presidential election.
The court accepted three related petitions, consolidating two and highlighting points to consider. In addition to considering the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the justices will address whether an unconstitutional provision can be struck out to leave the rest of the legislation intact.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Fla., had ruled on Jan. 31 that the act could not survive if the unconstitutional provision was severed. Appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, Vinson later suspended his declaratory judgment order, which would have stopped implementation of the law pending the appeal.
A separate petition will address the jurisdictional obstacle that the Anti-Injunction Act may pose.
Though several federal appeals courts have ruled on different lawsuits brought against the law, which President Barack Obama signed in March 2010, the justices agreed to consider only the Florida challenge.
That case is the only one to have been found unconstitutional on appeal. The 11th Circuit agreed with Vinson in August that the so-called individual mandate exceeds Congress' powers under the commerce clause. It concluded, however, that the provision could be struck out to preserve the rest of the law.
Set to take effect in 2014, the provision requires most Americans to have insurance.
The 6th Circuit and D.C. Circuit upheld the law as constitutional, but the 4th Circuit took another tack, overturning opposing findings as to the law's constitutionality in Virginia after finding that the commonwealth lacked standing to sue.
One of two September decisions from the 4th Circuit held that the Anti-Injunction Act strips the courts of jurisdiction because the suit "constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax."
A member of the D.C. Circuit panel also addressed this issue last week. "The Anti-Injunction Act applies here because plaintiffs' pre-enforcement suit, if successful, would prevent the IRS from assessing or collecting tax penalties from citizens who do not have health insurance," Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote. "To be sure, the Affordable Care Act labels its exaction for failure to have health insurance as a tax 'penalty' and not as a 'tax.' But the Anti-Injunction Act still applies."
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