Because the Obama administration and the plaintiffs agree that the AIA does not apply -- arguing that the provision functions more as a penalty than a revenue-raising tax -- the high court has appointed two veteran attorneys to argue that it does. The considerations come over the objections of Democrats and Republicans who each say they want a speedy ruling.
This might just be the high court doing its due diligence -- the expectation remains that a final decision will be handed down by the end of June. But observers have noted that, judicial reasoning aside, Chief Justice John Roberts in particular may not want the Supreme Court to become an election-year piÃ±ata so soon after the 2010 Citizens United ruling. No matter the decision, the court is expected to take plenty of heat from the losing side.
Delaying the ruling to 2014 or beyond could also have damaging implications for the nation's health care system. For instance, some states have been wary of implementing the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges until a decision is handed down, and might continue hedging if it's postponed. And in the event that the mandate is struck down, other aspects of the law may be in danger, and rolling them back years after the fact could be a costly, messy transition.