Supreme Court to rule soon on health care, immigration; what happens next?

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to begin three days of historic arguments over President Obama's health care law. Jan Crawford previews the battle in a case that has divided the American public and lower courts.

SCOTUS to begin 3-day review of Obama's health care law

(CBS News) Monday is the beginning of the final three weeks of the Supreme Court's 2012 term, a period when the court will be releasing decisions, generally on Mondays, on cases they've heard this year.

The two big cases awaiting decisions, which can be handed down between now and June 28, are the constitutionality of President Obama's health care plan and the Arizona immigration case, both of which have received national attention. Below is a primer on those cases, along with one other involving broadcast indecency.

The Affordable Care Act

The president's health care law, officially titled the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was argued before the Supreme Court over three days in March. Twenty-six states, individuals, the National Federation of Individual Businesses and others challenged the government on the law's constitutionality. The upcoming decision will not be "anything less than historic," Tom Goldstein, publisher of SCOTUSblog told Hotsheet.

The issues: Several issues are at stake in this case. The one receiving the most attention is the individual mandate, which says most individuals must purchase health insurance. Opponents say the government is overreaching by mandating people purchase a product from a private company.

The other question, which is receiving less attention, is the law's expansion of Medicaid. States say it places an undue burden on them to pay for the expansion of the health care program for the poor. The federal government says this is another expansion of Medicaid, which has happened several times before, and the rules are the same: participate with the federal funds allocated or opt out of the entire program.

Finally, if the individual mandate or the Medicaid provision is struck down, the Court will decide if the entire health care law stands or if the provisions can be severed from the law.

The Obama administration argued that the law is only possible as a whole.

"The issue of severability is trying to figure what Congress meant" when it passed the law, Georgetown Law Professor Susan Low Bloch said.

What it means: The practical significance for Americans is if they will have to purchase health insurance in 2014. If the mandate is struck down, the entire health care law could be dismantled, preexisting conditions would no longer be prohibited, people under the age of 26 could not stay on their parents' health insurance, and bans on life-time limits would be dropped.

In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, most Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn the individual mandate. Only 24 percent wanted the entire law upheld. 

This will define Congress' role in commerce, Goldstein said. The decision "is going to say something about the power of Congress," he added. If the court says the mandate is unconstitutional, that could mean Congress went too far in mandating commerce.

Randy Barnett, Georgetown Law professor and attorney for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which argued against the health care law, predicted that the decision will have lasting political implications. He said that if it is struck down, "We'll now have an election about the kind of health care people really want." He said the presidential candidates will be forced to define a new vision for health care and whoever wins will have a "mandate" by the voters to enact a new health care law.

Possible Outcome: The Court could strike down just the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion or the entire law. The justices could also determine the entire law constitutional.

"Striking it down would be striking," Bloch said. She said Congress has always been challenged on major pieces of legislation that created government programs but that the court has upheld the legality of Congress' legislation since the New Deal.

UnitedHealthcare to keep parts of health reforms regardless of court ruling

Arizona immigration law

After Arizona passed immigration law SB 1070 in 2010, the Department of Justice challenged four of the law's components: requiring undocumented immigrants register with the government and carry "alien registration documents" at all times or face criminal charges, requiring police to verify immigration status when they have reasonable suspicion to think someone is not a legal resident, enabling law enforcement to arrest someone without a warrant if they are likely subject to deportation and criminalizing working without proper documents.

The issues: The state of Arizona says its location on the Mexican border means the state "bears a disproportionate share of the costs of illegal immigration," attorney Paul Clement said during Supreme Court arguments. Clement argued that Arizona's immigration burden and the federal government's inaction led Arizona to pass its own law to assist the federal government's immigration enforcement.

On the other hand, the government says the Constitution "vests exclusive authority" with the federal government on the issue of immigration, in part because it is a crucial component to national security and international relations.

The question is if federal law preempts state law. In other words, does Arizona's law infringe on federal power?

What it means: The outcome of the Supreme Court decision will address "what power the states are going to have in the future on immigration enforcement," Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis Law School, told Hotsheet.

Although the Supreme Court's decision will only rule on Arizona's law, it will give states like Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina that have passed immigration laws insight into the limits of immigration enforcement.

What the court is not likely to address is the civil rights component of the case. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the justices that the government is "not making any allegation about racial or ethnic profiling."

Possible outcome: Only eight justices will rule the case as Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because she was solicitor general at the time when the federal government decided to challenge Arizona's law. If the justices are split, the four disputed components would not go into law, however the larger constitutional questions would remain unaddressed.

On the other hand, the Court could rule broadly and say states have more room to enforce immigration laws, it could rule that the states have no role, or it could say some of the four statutes in question are able to be enforced by the states while others are not.

Broadcast indecency

In Federal Communications Commission v. Fox, the broadcast network challenged the FCC for over-regulating by potentially fining broadcast networks for "indecent" material during live telecasts.

The issue: "The issue is what the FCC would call indecency on the airwaves," Georgetown Law professor Bloch said.

"How much control the government can have over the airwaves because they give out the licenses?"

Fox argues that the First Amendment of free speech is being violated if the government controls what is being broadcast. The FCC argues that a condition of obtaining a broadcast license is that they "refrain from broadcasting indecent material when children are most likely to be in the audience," Solicitor General Verrilli argued before the court.

SCOTUSblog publisher Goldstein said this case also comes down to broadcasters' ability to "compete against HBO" and other subscription media that don't need to comply with FCC indecency standards.

During oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito asked what Fox would show during prime time, when children might be watching, if indecency standards were lifted. Fox's attorney Carter Phillips responded to the question by saying the market will determine decency standards.

"The truth is the advertisers and the audiences that have to be responded to by the networks insist on some measure of restraint," Phillips said.

What it means: "If the federal government loses, the broadcasters will probably stretch the limits as to what they can say and show. If the federal government wins, then the content of radio and television might not change very much," Bloch said.

Possible outcome: Also in this case, only eight justices will Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself because she heard the case while she sat on a lower court. If there is a tie, the lower court decision, which said the indecency rule violated the First Amendment, saying the rule was too vague.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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