Judges Hear Arguments in Appeal of D.C.-Based Health Reform Lawsuit
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday heard nearly two hours of oral arguments in an independent lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health reform law, the Wall Street Journal reports (Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 9/24).
The lawsuit -- filed by the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., on behalf of five private individuals -- argues that the individual mandate conflicts with their religious beliefs.
The panel, which was randomly selected to hear the case, consists of two Republican appointees and a Democratic appointee, according to the AP/Bloomberg BusinessWeek (Pickler/Sherman, AP/Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 9/23).
According to National Journal, the three judges had mixed reactions to the testimony during the hearing, but the panel's two GOP-appointed judges did not indicate any inclination to overturn the health reform law by the end of the hearing. Meanwhile, the panel's third member -- Judge Harry Edwards, who was appointed by President Carter -- demonstrated the greatest inclination to uphold the law (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 9/23).
GOP-Appointed Judges Question Individual Mandate
Judges Laurence Silberman and Brett Kavanaugh -- who were appointed by presidents Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively -- expressed concern about allowing Congress to require individuals to obtain health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty (Wall Street Journal, 9/24).
Kavanaugh said a requirement to purchase any product "has never been done in 222 years," adding, "That alone is cause for judicial hesitation." However, he noted that Congress has the authority to regulate commerce.
Kavanaugh also said that he believes the health system overhaul "won't work without an individual mandate attached to it," noting that the reform law could spur the shift in the social safety net to private industry. He said, "Why should the court risk getting in the middle of that?" (AP/Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 9/23).
Prospects for the Case
The hearing also touched on the argument made by some overhaul opponents that the mandate's penalty amounts to a tax, CQ HealthBeat reports (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 9/23).
Kavanaugh said that a "major concern" of his was that the court would not be able to rule on the law's constitutionality question until 2015 because federal law prohibits most challenges to tax-related legislation before the tax takes effect (AP/Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 9/23).
As a result, it is possible that the panel might decide to sidestep the constitutionality question altogether by ruling that they do not have the jurisdiction to take up the issue, mirroring the conclusion of a panel of federal judges at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia earlier this month (National Journal, 9/23).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.