* Supreme Court ruling expected before 2012 U.S. elections
* Important legal, political, financial implications
* Administration wants to put challenges to rest
(Adds background, details)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, Sept 28 The Obama administration on
Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to back the centerpiece
of Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul -- the
requirement that all Americans have health insurance.
The appeal was largely expected as a high court ruling
against the law could be a fatal blow to the president's
signature domestic policy achievement and could have major
implications for his re-election bid.
The same day the administration filed its appeal, 26 states
and a major business group urged the justices to strike down
the entire law, which would have a far-reaching impact on
future healthcare coverage for Americans and company costs.
The case is likely to be heard and decided in the Supreme
Court's upcoming term that begins next week and lasts through
June 2012. A ruling is likely in the midst of the campaign for
the November 2012 elections.
The administration and the opponents of the law called for
a quick ruling by the high court to resolve uncertainty
affecting the federal government, states and companies about
the law's key provisions that are taking effect.
The 26 states and National Federation of Independent
Business argued in their appeals the entire law should be
invalidated because Congress exceeded its powers requiring that
Americans buy health insurance or face a penalty.
The Obama administration filed its own appeal in which the
Justice Department argued the so-called individual mandate, due
to take effect in 2014, was constitutional and said the issue
was appropriate for Supreme Court review.
"Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to
other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the
Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those
challenges failed," the Justice Department said.
"We believe the challenges to Affordable Care Act ... will
also ultimately fail and that the Supreme Court will uphold the
law," the department said in a statement.
White House adviser Stephanie Cutter said the
administration asked the Supreme Court to hear the case "so
that we can put these challenges to rest and continue moving
forward implementing the law to lower the cost of health care
and make it more secure for all Americans."
At issue was a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in Atlanta in
August that declared unconstitutional the individual insurance
requirement but refused to strike down the entire law.
That decision conflicted with rulings by other appeals
courts that have upheld the law or have rejected legal
challenges, including a lawsuit by the state of Virginia that
was dismissed earlier this month on procedural grounds.
The law, passed by Congress and signed by Obama in 2010
after a bruising political battle, is expected to be a major
issue in the 2012 elections as Obama seeks another four-year
term. Republican presidential candidates oppose it and
Republicans in Congress have pushed to repeal the law.
Obama, a Democrat, has championed the law as a major
accomplishment of his presidency and as a way to try to slow
soaring healthcare costs while expanding health insurance
coverage to the more than 30 million Americans without it.
The Supreme Court long has been expected to have the final
word on the law's constitutionality. The dispute has important
legal, political and financial implications for companies in
the healthcare field.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said the states sought
Supreme Court review of their lawsuit.
"This healthcare law is an affront on Americans' individual
liberty and we will not allow the federal government to violate
our constitutional rights," she said.
Legal experts have said the nine-member Supreme Court, with
a conservative majority and four liberals, most likely will be
closely divided on whether the individual mandate requiring
insurance purchases exceeded the power of Congress.
The Obama administration earlier this week said it decided
against asking the full U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit
to review the August ruling by a three-judge panel of the court
that found the insurance requirement unconstitutional.
That decision cleared the way for the administration to go
to the Supreme Court.
The states in their appeal also argued the law's expansion
of Medicaid, a federal-state partnership that provides health
care to low-income Americans, was unconstitutionally coercive,
forced upon the states.
A senior Justice Department official told reporters that
political considerations played no role in moving for Supreme
Court review. The official said it was important to get a
ruling soon so planning for the far-reaching law can proceed.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Karen Pierog in
Chicago; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Trott)