As the consitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's insurance mandate goes to the Supreme Court, I've read a number of things suggesting that the Obama Administration put politics aside in deciding not to seek en banc review in the Eleventh Circuit. The idea here is that by going straight to the Supreme Court, and not trying to slow down the litigation, the President risked losing his greatest legislative achievement right in the middle of the 2012 reelection campaign.
I don't doubt that, politics aside, the Solicitor General thought it made sense to go right to the Supreme Court. After all, the Eleventh Circuit was unlikely to rehear the case en banc. And, with cases attacking the mandate's constitutionality pending all over the country, and the issues fully developed among litigators, commentators, and judges, it's not plausible to argue that further percolation is needed in the lower courts. So, it seems right to me that, in seeking Supreme Court review, the Solicitor General was acting on general principles, not politics.
But I don't get the assumption that having the issue before the Supreme Court during the campaign, with a decision coming in June 2012, would be a political liability for the President. If, as Reagan Administration Solicitor General Charles Fried believes [go here as well], the case for the mandate's constitutionality is a slam dunk, the President is taking no risk that he will suffer a major political loss in the middle of the campaign. On the other hand, if the Supreme Court were to rule against the mandate's constitutionality, the President might generate significant support for his views on health care reform (and for his campaign) by emphaszing that the Court's conservative, Republican-appointed wing had thwarted the will of the majority. (That's what the President attempted unsuccessfully with the Citizens United decision.)
To be sure, running against a Supreme Court decision throwing out the mandate would turn off some voters (although many of them would never vote for the President anyway). But it's not as if President Obama can run a reelection campaign without trumpeting his signature legislative achievement. On the contrary, he'll need to give his health care reform law a full-throated defense, stressing not only its importance to the public health but its relationship to the country's longterm economic well-being. Linking those themes to one that bashes an "activist" conservative Supreme Court majority might resonate with undecided voters while activitating the Democratic base. So, on balance, it strikes me that having the issue before the Supreme Court in 2012 is a political plus.