The Obama administration on Wednesday formally asked the Supreme Court to review its controversial health care law, a move that's likely to set up a blockbuster election-year decision.
On the heels of an appellate court defeat, the Justice Department late Wednesday filed the 34-page petition urging the court to uphold the law's ambitious mandates.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta last month struck down the so-called individual mandate.
"The department has consistently and successfully defended this law in several court of appeals, and only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it unconstitutional," the Justice Department said in a written statement. "We believe the question is appropriate for review by the Supreme Court."
Opponents of the health care law want the court to act, too.
Earlier Wednesday, the National Federation of Independent Business filed a competing petition urging the Supreme Court to take up the case so it could strike down the law. Separately, 26 states filed their own petition Wednesday challenging the law's constitutionality.
"This case offers this court an ideal vehicle to resolve pressing and persistent constitutional questions arising out of the law," former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement wrote on behalf of the 26 states.
Clement had successfully argued at the appellate court level against what's formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which opponents deride as "Obamacare."
The law was billed as extending health care coverage to an additional 30 million U.S. residents. Passed in 2010 over unanimous Republican opposition, the law has also been a centerpiece of GOP attacks on the Obama presidency.
In its 2-1 ruling issued Aug. 12, the 11th Circuit concluded that the constitutional clause granting Congress authority over interstate commerce did not stretch so far as to include requiring individual insurance coverage.
Underscoring the all-around political intensity, the Justice Department filed its Supreme Court petition far earlier than it had to.
The department had foreshadowed its intentions Monday when it announced it would not ask all 11 judges of the 11th Circuit to review the August decision by the three-judge panel.
"We firmly believe that, as has been upheld by a number of different decisions, that ultimately the Affordable Care Act will be found constitutional, because it is," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
While the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the insurance mandate unconstitutional, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, agreed with the Obama administration that Congress acted within its authority.
Meanwhile, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told the Associated Press that justices should not shy away from deciding the case in the middle of a presidential campaign and that they would be doing the country a service.
"It would be better to have that known about than be speculated as a part of the political argument," Stevens.
He wouldn't say how he would vote, though he said the court's 6-3 decision in a 2005 case involving medical marijuana seems to support to the administration's defense of the law.