Justices Are Asked to Hear Challenge to Health Care Law

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court was asked on Wednesday to hear a challenge to the health care overhaul law, raising the possibility that the justices could rule on the matter by next summer, just months before the presidential election. Similar requests are likely to follow, and it is not clear which if any of them the court will agree to hear.

The petition submitted Wednesday was an appeal from a divided decision last month by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. The decision was the first appeals court ruling on the constitutionality of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The decision was also notable because Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, a prominent conservative judge who had served as a law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, joined the majority in upholding the law. Additional decisions on the constitutionality of the law are expected soon from other federal appeals courts, including ones in Atlanta and Richmond, Va.

The Sixth Circuit case was brought by several individuals and the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself as a defender of “America’s Christian heritage and moral values.” They argued that a provision of the law, which requires the purchase of insurance in some circumstances, exceeds the powers granted to Congress by the Constitution.

The Supreme Court is particularly apt to hear cases on which the lower courts are divided, but there is for now only a single decision from a federal appeals court. It also quite often hears cases in which a federal law has been struck down as unconstitutional, but here the law was upheld.

The Supreme Court also occasionally agrees to hear cases that involve, as its rules put it, “an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this court.” That may be enough here, though the justices may also wait to see what the other appeals courts do.

Most petitions seeking Supreme Court review are largely devoted to trying to persuade the justices that the case warrants their attention. The brief filed Wednesday was instead devoted in large part to arguments about why the lower court was wrong.

The petition urged the justices to hear the case to decide whether there is “a meaningful limitation on Congressional power under the Commerce Clause” of the Constitution. It said the leading Supreme Court decisions in the area have a “vexation quotient” prompted by “the incongruity and inconsistency of the court’s own jurisprudence.”

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