The Obama administration has decided not to ask a federal appeals court in Atlanta for further review of a ruling striking down the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul.
The administration's decision makes it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court would hear a case on the health care overhaul in the court's term starting next month, and render its verdict on the law in the midst of the 2012 presidential election campaign.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler disclosed the administration's decision. She declined to elaborate on next moves.
The Atlanta circuit ruling sided with 26 states that had sued to stop the law from taking effect. In another case, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld the individual mandate in June.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., rejected two lawsuits on technical grounds. In one, it ruled that the penalty for not buying insurance amounts to a tax and that a tax can't be challenged before it's collected. In the other, the panel said the plaintiff, the state of Virginia, lacked legal standing to file its lawsuit.
In a ruling in August, a divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta concluded Congress overstepped its authority when lawmakers passed the individual mandate provision that requires people to buy health insurance. The administration could have asked the full 11th circuit court to hear the case, potentially delaying high court review.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the fourth appeals court to deal with a case over the law, heard oral arguments last Friday but hasn't issued a ruling.
The Supreme Court is widely expected to have the final say on the law, especially now that the appeals courts that have considered the law have disagreed, and one of them has struck down a key provision.
The real question has been over timing, which has political as well as legal ramifications.
In order to hear and decide the case by late June, when the court wraps up its work until resuming in October, the justices would have to act by January to accept and schedule an appeal.
It typically takes a couple of months or more from the time an appeal is filed at the court until the justices decide whether or not to hear it.
In arguments leading up to the appeals court decision in Atlanta, the Obama administration said the legislative branch was using a "quintessential" power - its constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry - when it passed the overhaul law. Administration officials said at the time they were confident the 11th Circuit ruling would not stand.
In that August ruling, Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull said that lawmakers cannot require residents to "enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die."
In a lengthy dissent, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus accused the majority of ignoring the "undeniable fact that Congress' commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries." He wrote that Congress generally has the constitutional authority to create rules regulating large areas of the national economy.