Supreme Court declines to fast-track Obamacare appeal

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to put the legal challenge to Obamacare on a fast track, meaning the court — even if it later decides to take up the case — will not hear it during its current term that ends in June just as the presidential campaign heats up.

Nineteen blue states, led by California, asked the Supreme Court earlier this month for a quick decision on whether to take the case. They're appealing a ruling late last year by a federal appeals court that said Obamacare's individual mandate is unconstitutional. The ruling said the rest of the law could not survive without it.

The states defending the law said the appeals court ruling created uncertainty about the future of the entire Affordable Care Act, which "threatens adverse consequences for our nation's health care system, including for patients, doctors, insurers, and state and local governments."

They asked the court to take the case and hear it on April 26, the last scheduled day for oral argument this term, or to add an extra argument day in May, something the court does only rarely. Tuesday's order rejected that request.

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The heath care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, was challenged by Texas and 17 other red states. They argued that the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty on their income tax, was unconstitutional. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed.

Tuesday's brief Supreme Court order does not indicate whether the court intends to hear the case, after the normal time for the opposing sides to submit their legal briefs, or allow it to continue working its way through the lower court appeals.

But even if the justices do decide to take it up, the case would not be heard until the court's next term, which begins in October and any decision would not come until after Election Day on Nov. 3.