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IN JUNE, at the close of its 2011-12 session, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stunning 5-4 verdict ruling Obamacare constitutional. Amid the resulting cheers and jeers, Chief Justice John Roberts joked that he would be spending the summer break at an "impregnable island fortress."
Last week, at the opening of its next session, the court threw down the drawbridge of that fortress and tossed out an equally shocking decision: It gave the U.S. Department of Justice 30 days to respond to Liberty Counsel's request for reconsideration of its suit against President Obama's signature health care legislation.
Neither opponents nor proponents of the law should begin rejoicing. But the unusual ruling (and the timeframe attached to it) indicates there is significant interest on the part of the justices in reviewing the landmark law once again.
Liberty Counsel (an arm of Lynchburg's Liberty University) had challenged both the individual mandate and the employer requirements of the law, calling them unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, threw out Liberty's case, citing the Anti-Injunction Act that forbids rulings against taxes that have yet to be assessed.
But in June, among its other decisions, the Supreme Court said that the AIA does not apply to Obamacare (a term the president now embraces). Thus, says Liberty's Matt Staver, the school's challenge rates a second look.
The high court may agree. Or it may not. Right now, it just wants to hear what DOJ thinks of Liberty's request. After that the justices could (a) send the case back to the 4th Circuit for another look or (b) do nothing. If the 4th Circuit does find the case back on its docket, and tosses the suit again, Liberty could have another shot at a Supreme Court appeal.
It's a long and winding road, but an interesting one for Supreme Court--and Obamacare--watchers.