A federal appeals court earlier this month ruled that Congress did not overstep its authority by requiring people to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes beginning in 2014, as called for under a core provision of the Obama administration’s health care reform law.


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Appeals court OKs health care reform law

November 21st, 2011

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court earlier this month ruled that Congress did not overstep its authority by requiring people to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes beginning in 2014, as called for under a core provision of the Obama administration’s health care reform law.

The decision — which proponents of the law point out was written by a prominent conservative jurist — came just before the Supreme Court began considering whether to take up challenges to the law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The decision is the fourth appellate court ruling on the health care law and the third to deal with the statute on the merits. It is the second ruling to uphold the law.

Legal experts have been saying for months that the ultimate fate of the Obama health reform law would be decided by the nine-member high court, which was expected to announce its decision on whether to consider one of the numerous appeals to the various lower court rulings a few days after Chain Drug Review went to press.

The latest challenge to the health care reform law was brought by the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

It claimed that the so-called “individual mandate” requiring health insurance is unconstitutional because it forces Americans to buy a product for the rest of their lives and it violates the religious freedom of those who choose not to have insurance because they rely on God to protect them from harm.

But the court ruled that Congress had the power to pass the requirement to ensure that all Americans can have health care coverage, even if it infringes on individual liberty.

“That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before — but that seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations,” Judge Laurence Silberman wrote in his 37-page majority opinion.

Silberman, who was joined by Judge Harry Edwards in the court’s 2-1 decision, said he felt that opponents’ argument that Congress did not have the authority to mandate that people purchase health insurance seemed to be a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations.

In a 65-page dissent to the ruling, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said that the courts lack jurisdiction until the law’s tax penalties take effect in 2015.

Because the appellate courts have ruled both ways on the law, legal experts say there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will hear the case.

The latest opinion is the second appeals court decision that upholds the law on the merits. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati also upheld the law.

Another federal court, however, felt differently. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, struck down the individual mandate in a lawsuit brought by officials of 26 states. That court, though, upheld the rest of the law.

And like Kavanaugh’s dissenting opinion, an appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled that it was premature to decide the law’s constitutionality.

Proponents of the health care reform law say that Silberman’s upholding of the law signals that the final decision on the law will not be one based solely on political philosophy.

“It is hard to imagine anything that could take more of the wind from the sails of ACA opponents than this terse, unequivocal ruling that their case against the ACA individual mandate has no ‘real support in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent,’ ” Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel for the National Senior Citizens Law Center, said the day that the ruling was handed down. “There is no judge more respected in conservative legal and political circles than Judge Silberman.”

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