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Health-care reform law set back, setting stage for Supreme Court showdown

A federal appeals court rejects the individual mandate, the crux of Obama's health-care reform. With another appeals court having already upheld the law, a Supreme Court showdown is far more likely.

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President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 23, 2010. The bill has been rejected by a federal appeals court, and may be sent to the Supreme Court.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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The federal appeals court decision on Friday striking down the centerpiece of President Obama’s health-care reform law, moves the country one step closer to a potential constitutional showdown at the US Supreme Court over the scope of federal power.

A panel of the Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals, voting 2 to 1, ruled that Congress exceeded its authority in the health-care law by requiring every American to purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or face a penalty.

The decision by the Atlanta-based appeals court is in direct opposition to a 2-to-1 decision announced June 29 by the Cincinnati-based Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

That appeals court panel upheld the so-called individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ruling that Congress’s powers under the Constitution’s commerce clause were broad enough to order individuals to purchase and maintain private insurance coverage.

Constitutional scholars are awaiting a decision on the same issue from the Richmond-based Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the fact that two of the three appeals courts have ruled and reached different conclusions significantly increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will agree to examine the issue, legal analysts say.

In its ruling on Friday, the 11th Circuit panel struck down the individual mandate, but declined to follow the lead of a lower court judge in Florida, who ruled the entire ACA null and void.

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