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Supreme Court orders quick response in Obamacare challenge

Nineteen blue states, led by California, asked the high court last week for a fast decision on whether to take the case.
Image: Florida Residents Sign Up For Affordable Care Act On Deadline Day
A UniVista Insurance office in Miami allowed people to sign up for health care plans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, in 2015.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the Trump administration and states challenging Obamacare to respond by Friday to an appeal filed by defenders of the health care law.

Such a highly abbreviated timeline — the rules normally allow a month for filing a response — gives the court the option to take up the case during its current term, which would mean a ruling on a contentious issue this spring, just as the presidential campaign heats up.

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

The states said that ruling "created uncertainty about the future of the entire Affordable Care Act, and that uncertainty 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, or to add an extra argument day in May, something the court rarely does.

The law 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, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed.

The Supreme Court ordered the red states and the Trump administration, which joined them in challenging the law, to file their response to the proposed appeal by 4 p.m. Friday. Under normal practice, any case not granted by mid-January will not be heard during the court's current term.