WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will learn how the Supreme Court rules on his flagship healthcare law from watching the news, and won't get any advance word on the opinion, the White House said on Wednesday.
Asked where Obama will be when the highly anticipated decision is announced on Thursday morning, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "In my office."
Supreme Court rulings are released in a carefully controlled way. Justices read excerpts from the bench in Washington at the same time as the full judgments are posted online and handed to reporters in paper form.
An assistant clerk also calls the lawyers for both sides about the announcement. But interested parties in the West Wing and elsewhere have to hear from the media what has been decided.
"We turn on televisions and radios and computers and watch SCOTUSblog," Carney told reporters at the White House.
"I think anybody who covers the Supreme Court knows that it's pretty air-tight, and it is perhaps anachronistic, or not, but that's a fact. And so we all will await the decision and learn of it at the same time that you do," he said.
The healthcare verdict could have wide-ranging political and economic implications for the Democratic president, who made the 2010 reform a centerpiece of his agenda. Republicans have said the overhaul was unconstitutional and have vowed to repeal what is left of it if the court does not strike it down in full. (Reporting By Laura MacInnis and Jim Vicini; Editing by Sandra Maler)
Below, more on the history of the challenge to Obama's health care reform law:
U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh, a Clinton appointee sitting in the Eastern District of Michigan, released the first major Affordable Care Act decision in October 2010. In Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, Steeh sided with the government to hold the law constitutional. "The decision whether to purchase insurance or to attempt to pay for health care out of pocket is plainly economic," Steeh wrote. "These decisions, viewed in the aggregate, have clear and direct impacts on health care providers, taxpayers and the insured population, who ultimately pay for the care provided to those without insurance."
At the end of November 2010, another Clinton appointee, Judge Norman Moon of the Western District of Virginia, agreed with Judge Steeh. In Liberty University v. Geithner, Moon wrote that "by choosing to forgo insurance, plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance."
In December 2010, however, Judge Henry Hudson, a George W. Bush appointee sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled otherwise. In Virginia v. Sebelius, Hudson struck down the individual mandate, writing that "an individual's personal decision to purchase -- or decline to purchase -- health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the commerce clause." Importantly, Hudson also held that the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the Affordable Care Act, which means a court can strike it down while allowing the law's remaining provisions to stand.
Finally in January 2011, Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee in the Northern District of Florida, evened the score but upped the ante. In Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, not only did he strike down the individual mandate as exceeding Congress' power under the commerce clause, but he also took the whole health care law down with it. "The act," Vinson wrote, "like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker."
In June 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld, by a 2-1 vote, Judge Steeh's decision in Thomas More Law Center. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a George W. Bush appointee, was the first judge chosen by a Republican president to reject the commerce clause challenge, writing that "no one must 'pile inference upon inference' to recognize that the national regulation of a $2.5 trillion industry, much of it financed through" national health insurance companies, "is economic in nature." He joined Judge Boyce Martin, a Jimmy Carter appointee, in the majority, while Judge James L. Graham, a Reagan appointee, wrote a vigorous dissent. In August, the 11th Circuit, reviewing Florida v. HHS, produced a near mirror-image result. Judge Frank Hull, a Clinton appointee, joined the Reagan-appointed Judge Joel Dubina to affirm District Judge Vinson's decision to strike down the individual mandate. Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton appointee, dissented, quoting heavily from Sutton's 6th Circuit concurring opinion. All three 11th Circuit judges found the mandate severable from the rest of the Affordable Care Act, reversing District Judge Hudson's decision to deep-six the entire law. Both appeals courts unanimously rejected the government's taxing power argument, insisting that if Congress had thought the penalty for not buying insurance was a tax, it would have explicitly called it a tax. On this issue, a third appeals court created another circuit split.
In September 2011, the 4th Circuit dismissed two challenges to the health care law, finding that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring their lawsuits. The panel did find that the penalty for not buying insurance was a tax -- a good sign for the government's defense of the law. But rather than hold that the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress' taxing power, Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee, and James Wynn, an Obama appointee, said that another federal law, the Anti-Injunction Act, prevented the plaintiffs from challenging the mandate until they actually had to pay the tax -- which cannot happen before the provision goes into effect in 2014. The third judge, Obama appointee Andre Davis, said he wouldn't have dismissed the lawsuits and would have upheld the individual mandate based primarily on commerce clause ground. Regardless of the methodology, the Obama administration was now winning 2-1 in the courts of appeals against the Affordable Care Act's challengers.
The Supreme Court is most likely to choose to hear a case for one of three reasons: The constitutionality of a federal law hangs in the balance, the circuit courts disagree on the same issue, or the solicitor general advises the Court to take the case. Cases that fulfill just one of these considerations stand a good chance of reaching the justices. The health care cases had all three. In November 2011, the justices agreed to review the 11th Circuit's decision. To signal how seriously it took the challenges, the Court soon thereafter scheduled six hours of oral argument to take place from March 26 to 28, 2012. Normally, even for blockbuster cases, the justices only allot one hour for oral argument.
All eyes turned to the Supreme Court in late March 2012 when the justices heard oral argument and gave their first public hints of where they stood on the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality. On the first day, March 26, liberal and conservative justices alike showed little interest in following the 4th Circuit's decision to throw out the challenge to the health care law on a technicality before ever reaching the constitutional merits of the individual mandate. That display of unity disappeared on Tuesday, March 27, as the Court took on the main event: two hours of argument over the mandate. The Court's four Democratic appointees all appeared to find the mandate well within Congress' powers to regulate interstate commerce, as the 6th Circuit had held; the Court's five Republican appointees, in concert with the 11th Circuit, seemed to think otherwise. Only in the final moments did swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy soften his tone by musing aloud whether the health insurance market is different enough, after all, to allow a mandate to prevent cost-shifting where it might not be permissible in another market. "[M]ost questions in life are matters of degree," he said. On Wednesday, March 28, the justices considered what other parts of the Affordable Care Act would fall if they found the mandate unconstitutional. No majority emerged. Several justices agreed with the challengers that the whole law must fall. Several others agreed with the Obama administration that two key (and popular) provisions could not survive without the mandate. Still others indicated some sympathy for severing the mandate alone and allowing the rest of the law to stand. A decision is expected by the end of June.