Appeals Court Upholds Health Reform Law’s Individual Mandate
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the individual mandate in the federal health reform law is constitutional, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The ruling comes just days before the Supreme Court is expected to discuss whether it will review any of the lawsuits against the overhaul (Kendall/Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
The lawsuit was filed by the American Center for Law and Justice, a D.C.-based conservative Christian legal group, on behalf of five individuals in New York, North Carolina and Texas.
The suit stated that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by passing legislation requiring most U.S. residents to purchase health coverage in 2014 or pay a penalty.
The plaintiffs also argued that the mandate violates their right to religious freedom because it conflicts with their belief that God provides for their well being (California Healthline, 9/26).
The judges voted 2-1 in favor of the overhaul, finding that Congress has regulatory authority over the health insurance market and that the law is constitutional under the commerce clause.
The majority opinion was written by Laurence Silberman, who was nominated by President Reagan. Silberman was joined by Judge Harry Edwards, who was nominated by President Carter (Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, dissented. Kavanaugh said the court should not rule on the case, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, which states that courts lack jurisdiction until a tax takes effect (Schwartz, New York Times, 11/8).
Silberman wrote, "The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems, no matter how local -- or seemingly passive -- their individual origins" (Wall Street Journal, 11/9). He added that the fact that Congress has not previously issued an individual mandate "seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations" (New York Times, 11/8).
Effect on SCOTUS
Legal experts noted that the speed at which the appeals court ruled might indicate that Silberman and the other judges were hoping to influence the Supreme Court (Aizenman, Washington Post, 11/8).
Four lawsuits are pending before the court, including the multistate lawsuit in which 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business are plaintiffs. The high court must decide on which issues it wants to rule. It might decide to consider only challenges to the individual mandate or combine issues from several different cases (California Healthline, 10/27).
According to The Hill's "Healthwatch," Tuesday's ruling "isn't likely to have a major impact" on the high court's decision. However, the ruling improves the overhaul's record in appellate courts. Two circuit courts have now upheld the individual mandate, one ruled against it, while one did not reach a decision.
Supporters of the federal health reform law praised the court's ruling.
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said the law's "standing and its legal grounding is the strongest it's ever been after this ruling" (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/8).
In a blog entry, Stephanie Cutter, senior aide to President Obama, called the ruling "yet another victory" for U.S. residents who are benefiting from the provisions of the law that already have been implemented (New York Times, 11/8). She added that opponents "who claim that the 'individual responsibility' provision exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce are simply wrong."
Meanwhile, David Rivkin, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the multistate lawsuit, called Silberman's opinion "unpersuasive and almost flippant" (Wall Street Journal, 11/9).
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said, "[W]e still remain confident that [the federal health reform law] and the individual mandate, which forces Americans to purchase health insurance, is the wrong prescription for America and ultimately will be struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court" (New York Times, 11/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.