First Monday in October

It isn't even officially on the docket yet, but when the U.S. Supreme Court convenes today for the start of the 2011-2012 term, the battle over health care reform will be by far the biggest possible legal drama for the justices in coming months.

In the last week, the groundwork for action by the High Court on the matter was laid by both sides, with the federal government and a number of states asking the justices to deal with two different cases that have been working their way through the 4th and 11th Circuit Courts of Appeal.

"The Founding Fathers fully intended that the states would serve as a check on federal power," said Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, whose legal challenge was tossed out by the 4th Circuit, which ruled that Virginia didn't have the standing to sue at this point.

All sides have the rest of this month to submit briefs to the Court, which will then officially decide whether or not to hear the case.

Also still up in the air is exactly what the justices might decide to do, especially since three judge panels in three different circuits have come up with three different ways to deal with the Obama health reform law legal battles:

  • The Fourth Circuit threw out a pair of cases from Virginia, basically saying they were filed too early.
  • The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the White House.
  • The 11th Circuit ruled the individual mandate and two other provisions unconstitutional. One thing that certainly isn't clear right now is whether there is a five vote majority on the court to make a major ruling - like striking down the individual mandate - or whether the Court will nibble around the edges, maybe even finding a way to avoid ruling on the constitutional merits of the Obama health law. Look for arguments early next year, with a ruling by the end of June. Obviously, it could be a rather major decision with lots of political drama, coming smack dab in the middle of the 2012 race for the White House. AND IN OTHER CASES BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT  This year's term is not all about health care reform, as a number of other high profile matters are already before the justices:
  • The "GPS" case raises the question of whether it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police to put a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant.
  • There is a big First Amendment case involving Fox and the FCC over whether the feds can regulate "fleeting expletives" with fines. Like health care reform, there are also other issues bubbling in lower courts which could reach the Supreme Court in this term, such as same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act and more. The 2010-2011 term was considered sort of a quiet term for the Supreme Court - this term might well be a legal blockbuster on a variety of fronts. Oyez, oyez, oyez!