The US Supreme Court next week is to hear a challenge to President Barack Obama's signature health care overhaul law, which has faced a long series of legal challenges since being passed in 2010.
An unusual amount of time is being devoted to the case that legal scholars have called one of the biggest issues to be considered by the court in years. The case raises key questions about the role of the US federal government and its relationship with states and citizens.
Obama's effort to reign in soaring health care costs and address the millions of uninsured has become a political as well as legal hot potato ahead of November presidential elections. Republicans object to the law, and all the party's presidential hopefuls have vowed to work to repeal it, even as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney enacted similar legislation in his state that has been described as a model for Obama's measure.
The court is to hear three separate appeals - from the federal government, from a group of 26 states where top Republican justice officials joined together to fight the law, and from a business group - which are challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Over three days, there will be five and half hours of oral arguments, from March 26-28. The court itself considers the case of such importance that it allotted more time than the traditional one hour devoted to oral arguments.
Obama pushed for the law to help the estimated 30 million Americans without health insurance and address the resulting problems and soaring costs in a country that is among the few wealthy nations that do not offer such coverage to its citizens.
The law, supported by Obama's Democrats and rejected by most opposition Republicans, was designed to get nearly universal health care coverage - a goal that has long eluded past presidents.
To achieve that goal without forcing the US government to directly pay for or manage health care, it requires most Americans to purchase their own insurance. It also requires insurance firms to even cover patients with existing medical conditions - applicants they might have turned down in the past because of the expense.
Legal challenges to the massive 2,700-page health care law have largely centred around the mandate that requires citizens to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty of as much as 3,000 dollars per year. State governments have also argued the measure violates their rights to regulate the industry.
The primary challenge to be heard by the court was brought by 26 states. Conservatives opposed to the law say the government should not be able to force citizens to buy a product.
"Once Congress has this power, what keeps them from forcing you to buy a GMC car?" said Michael Carvin, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business that is among those challenging the law.
"Once Congress has that power, they can do it for banks, cars, whatever they want," he told journalists at a briefing on the upcoming case.
But the Obama administration argues that the government can regulate the industry under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
The nine justices must decide a number of issues: Is the requirement to purchase insurance constitutional? Does the court even have the power to rule on a law that has not fully gone into effect? If part of the law is struck down, does that negate the entire law? And can Congress force states to expand eligibility for existing health care programmes for the poor?
Supporters of the law argue that not only does Congress have the ability to regulate trade but also that the mandate would be legal under its power to tax citizens.
Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general who supports the law, noted that everyone ultimately purchases health insurance whether they pay for it through insurance or not, and the law would simply cover the costs that are already going to be incurred - costs that are now borne by the already insured, hospitals and taxpayers.
A US appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia found last year that parts of the law were unconstitutional, but other courts have disagreed in separate challenges to the law.
The White House believes the law will hold up to the constitutional legal scrutiny.
Most Popular Stories
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Georgia GOP Preaches Minority Outreach
- GM Joins Nissan to Supply Small Cargo Vehicle
- Ford's Supplier Diversity Program Turns 35
- Ford Trucks See Boost as Roadshow Reaches Saudi Arabia
- Kerry Concerned Over Blasphemy Laws, Anti-Semitism
- GM to Rejoin S&P 500, Akerson Says
- Ladies in White Group Needs Help From Abroad
- NTSB Wants to Lower Blood Alcohol Limit to 0.05