Supreme Court to Hear Case Challenging Health Law

Monday, November 14th, 2011

New York Times

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to the 2010 health care overhaul law, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The development set the stage for oral arguments by March and a decision in late June, in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The court’s decision to step in had been expected, but Monday’s order answered many questions about just how the case would proceed. Indeed, it offered a roadmap toward a ruling that will help define the legacy of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Appeals from three courts had been vying for the justices’ attention, presenting an array of issues beyond the central one of whether Congress has the constitutional power to require people to purchase health insurance or face a penalty through the so-called individual mandate.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals from just one decision, from the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, the only one so far striking down the mandate. The decision, from a divided three-judge panel, said the mandate overstepped Congressional authority and could not be justified by the constitutional power “to regulate commerce” or “to lay and collect taxes.”

The appeals court went no further, though, severing the mandate from the rest of the law.

On Monday, the justices agreed to decide not only whether the mandate is constitutional but also whether, if it is not, how much of the balance of the law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, must fall along with it.

Even the Obama administration, while arguing that the mandate is perfectly constitutional, has said that it is “absolutely intertwined” with two other provisions — one forbidding insurers to turn away applicants, the other barring them from taking account of pre-existing conditions.

The 11th Circuit ruled for the administration on another point, rejecting a challenge to the law’s expansion of the Medicaid program. The Supreme Court also agreed to hear an appeal from that ruling.

The 26 states, represented by Paul D. Clement, a former United States solicitor general, had argued that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by expanding the eligibility and coverage thresholds that states must adopt to remain eligible to participate in Medicaid.

The problem, Mr. Clement wrote, was that “Congress did not tie its new conditions only to those additional federal funds made newly available under” the Affordable Care Act. “It instead made the new terms a condition of continued participation in Medicaid, thereby threatening each State with the loss of all federal Medicaid funds — on average, more than a billion dollars per year — unless it adopts the act’s substantial expansions of state obligations.”

On Monday, the justices agreed to consider that question. The justices also said they would consider an intriguing threshold issue.

In September, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled that it was premature to decide the case in light of the Anti-Injunction Act, a federal law that bars suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The Supreme Court had interpreted the term “tax” very broadly for purposes of the law.

If the Fourth Circuit ruling is correct, individuals may not challenge the individual mandate until the first penalty is due in April 2015. On Tuesday, a dissenting judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also endorsed that position.

The administration had initially pressed but later abandoned the argument. In the Supreme Court, the Justice Department suggested that the court consider the issue and perhaps appoint a lawyer to present arguments in favor of it, as the court occasionally does when the parties agree on a significant issue that could alter the outcome of the eventual decision.

Crystal Bridges Museum Open At Last

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Arkansas Business

Alice Walton, the force behind Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, was greeted with applause, cheers and shouts of “Thanks, Alice,” as she took the podium Friday during opening ceremonies for the museum.

After Veterans’ Day observances on Bentonville’s downtown square, museum executive director Don Bacigalupi introduced Walton, who has said her love of art was fostered by her mother, Helen Walton, wife of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.

Speaking on her family’s behalf, Alice Walton recalled the day four years ago when the land set aside for Crystal Bridges was dedicated to their mother.

“We know Mom and Dad would be pleased that this land is now housing a home for American art where dreams of this community and this region and this nation can grow and thrive and prosper,” Walton said.

After the morning ceremonies, the museum finally opened its doors to the public at 12:30 p.m. Those holding tickets waited in nearby parking lots for shuttle buses to take them to get their first look at Crystal Bridges.

Admission is free, thanks to a $20 million gift from Wal-Mart, but because of the anticipated crowds, the museum is requiring visitors through Jan. 2 to reserve “timed” tickets that allow a certain number to enter every half-hour.

No one is saying how much construction of the 201,000-SF facility on 120 acres has cost. Arkansas Business, in its 2010 list of the state’s largest commercial construction projects, made an estimate of $150 million.

The Walton Family Foundation recently said it gave the museum more than $1.2 billion in endowments and grants last year to fund operations, art acquisitions and upkeep, but that is separate from construction costs.

Crystal Bridges spokesman Lynnette Werning wrote in an email Thursday that the museum now employs 130 people, plus an unspecified number of security personnel.

Museum officials have projected up to 250,000 people will descend on this town of about 35,000 to visit the museum in its first year of operations.

Area hoteliers and restaurateurs had already been seeing an influx of visitors over the last week or so for museum preview events and parties.

Jodi Lightner, director of sales and marketing for the 130-room Aloft hotel off Interstate 540 in Rogers, said they’ve been booked up for the last week and a half.

The region’s hotels are generally booked Monday through Thursday with business travelers, but Lightner said they’re all hoping Crystal Bridges will boost weekend occupancy rates.

“We’re getting calls from all over the U.S. from people specifically coming to see Crystal Bridges,” she said. “We’re ready to welcome all the new people who come into Northwest Arkansas.”

Louis Herrera, house manager at Table Mesa Bistro on the Bentonville square, said the restaurant has seen sales up 30 percent in the last month due to people coming into town for previews and other museum-related activities.

Crystal Bridges architect Moshe Safdie has become a regular at the restaurant, Herrera said.

To prepare for this weekend, he said, they hired more staff, made some changes to the menu and re-arranged tables to accommodate large groups.

“We’re not taking any more reservations for [Saturday] night,” he said. “Our book filled up two weeks ago.”