Before there was national health reform, there was San Francisco health reform. The Golden Gate city required employers to provide some form of health insurance or face fines and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association objected and sued.
The restaurant association has been largely unsuccessful in challenging the law but they have persisted. They have argued that federal ERISA law allowing multistate employers to skirt local laws concerning benefits trumps Healthy San Francisco.
There next and final recourse is to take it before the Supreme Court, something the Obama administration has decided to weigh in on. A couple weeks ago, the administration filed a brief saying the Supremes should not take up the case. This was of course a different tack than George Bush, whose solicitor argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the ordinance.
But the Obama administration has a much different stake in the outcome of this case. Their argument is that national health reform makes a law like Health San Francisco, passed in 2006, obsolete. The issues presented in the case-that local governments have the ability to require employers to offer insurance-are unlikely to come to the fore considering federal law now requires some form of employer participation in health care.
The subtext of this brief though is much bigger. If the court did take up the case and ruled against the city and in favor of the employer group, it would no doubt fan the flames of opposition to national health reform. Though the Supremes may rule on much narrower grounds, it could galvanize legal opposition to national health reform law. Already, there is a movement afoot in some states to declare federal reform illegal. If the Supreme Court takes up this case it could become symbolic of a larger referendum on health reform.