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Will a Judge Rule Against Health Reform Today?

A federal district judge in Florida is likely (but not certain) to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act today. And the judge, a Reagan appointee, is likely (but, again, not certain) to rule for the plaintiffs -- i.e., he'll throw out the individual mandate and, quite possibly, other parts of the law, as well.

If so, it would be just one decision and very much in the minority. So far, a dozen other federal judges have dismissed similar lawsuits brought before them or ruled that the Affordable Care Act passes constitutional muster. Only one other federal judge -- another conservative jurist, from Virginia -- has ruled against the law. And the only votes that count are those of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, who presumably will render the final verdict at some future date. But the decision is sure to get a lot of attention and the law's critics on the right are sure to claim it as a major victory.

In case you missed it, last month I wrote a lengthy article about the case, its merits, and its possible implications:

Experts I’ve interviewed aren’t by any means convinced that the repeal lawsuits will succeed, but they also are not dismissing them out of hand. It’s easy to see why. Conservatives have spent decades populating the federal bench with judges who, although hardly monochromatic, share a suspicion of government intrusions into the economy. ...
Smart legal minds, moreover, can always find plausible precedents or nuances to validate their point of view. And that is exactly what the lawyers making the case for health care repeal have done. The legal debate surrounding repeal is complicated and multi-dimensional. But part of it revolves around a novel philosophical twist: a distinction between activity and inactivity that, repeal advocates say, makes the insurance requirement an illegitimate exercise of federal authority. It’s an arcane legal point, but, suddenly, a consequential one, and not just because of its relevance to health care. Some experts believe that a ruling striking down part of the Affordable Care Act could render vulnerable wide swaths of the regulatory state, breathing new life into a notion of limited government this country rejected a very long time ago.

Ironically, a decision against the Affordable Care Act would come just as its political fortunes seem, finally, to be improving. Support for outright repeal appears to have ebbed and it's becoming more clear that even many of those who oppose the law want it strengthened, not weakened.

But, as I noted in that article, "judges don’t operate within the same constraints as politicians. And this is where the health-care repeal litigation is fundamentally more threatening than attempts to repeal the law through Congress."