The List

Why Obama wants the Supreme Court to decide 'ObamaCare' in 2012

The Justice Department passes on the chance to delay a high-stakes showdown — instead pushing for a swift decision in the middle of the campaign season

The Obama administration on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court to rule quickly on the constitutionality of the president's signature health-care reform law, foregoing a potential rehearing before an appeals court over whether the feds can force people to buy health insurance. Lower courts have split on whether that individual mandate is unconstitutional, so the issue was destined to appear before the high court some day. But the Justice Department's request for a speedy final ruling virtually assures that the final showdown on the controversial issue will occur in the middle of the presidential campaign. Why is President Obama reviving such a volatile issue in an election year? Here, four theories:

1. Obama must be sure he'll win in court
Asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether a mandate to obtain health insurance is unconstitutional "carries some big risks," says Christian Schappel at HR Morning. If the starkly divided Supreme Court invalidates the individual mandate, "it would be an embarrassing defeat that could cost the president votes this coming election." So why is he doing this? The most likely explanation is that President Obama is confident the court will side with him.

2. The president wants to be sure the law is defended
Delaying until after the election would be risky, too, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. In 2013, "a Republican administration could be in power," and it's unlikely that a President Rick Perry or Mitt Romney would try to defend a health reform law they've pledged to overturn. This way, "the Obama administration will be the one defending its signature legislative achievement."

3. Team Obama wants to avoid another appeals court defeat
The Justice Department might have "simply concluded that the prospects of success" in the conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals were remote, says Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy. Why spend any more time than necessary in an unfriendly forum? A subsequent opinion from the 11th Circuit judges might have only "hurt the government more than help it." 

4. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the Obama campaign wins
The fight in the Supreme Court might boost President Obama's re-election campaign, says Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog, no matter which way the justices rule. If they uphold the law, it "takes the wind out of the argument" from the GOP nominee that the health care law is unconstitutional. If the court strikes it down, it will be easier for Obama to convince voters that the conservative high court is out of control. "Sometimes, you can win by losing before the Roberts Court."

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