by Jeremy Leaming
Turning aside a Religious Right group’s challenge to the Obama administration’s signature law, a “conservative-leaning” federal appeals court today upheld the constitutionality of an integral provision of the health care reform law.
In a 103-page opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit supported a lower district court’s opinion that found constitutional the law’s minimum coverage provision, which requires individuals, starting in 2014, to maintain health care coverage, or pay a penalty, called a “shared responsibility payment.” Specifically the district court held that the minimum coverage provision was a legitimate regulation of economic activity pursuant to the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.
ACS Board Chair Geoffrey R. Stone lauded today’s opinion, saying it represented yet another rejection of opponents’ cramped vision of the Constitution:
“If those who challenge the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act had their way, our federal government would be unable to tackle serious national problems,” Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, said. “It is particularly noteworthy that today's opinion was written by Judge Laurence H. Silberman, one of the most respected conservative jurists in the nation. Judge Silberman, who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan and was awarded the national Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, flatly rejected the constitutional challenge, explaining that 'the right to be free from federal regulation . . . yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems.'"
Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel for the National Senior Citizens Law Center, told ACSblog, “There is no judge more respected in conservative legal and political circles than Laurence Silberman, and 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.’”
Lazarus continued, “Especially coming in the wake of the Sixth Circuit Jeffrey Sutton’s similarly sweeping rejection of the opponents’ case, and in particular, coming virtually on the eve of the Supreme Court’s November 10 conference on whether to accept review of the pending ACA cases, the Court’s conservative bloc is facing strong recommendations to handle this case as judicial conservatives, not libertarian radicals or political activists.”
Lazarus is author of two ACS Issue Briefs, one on the constitutionality of ACA’s minimum coverage provision, and the other addressing opponents’ arguments against the scope of the federal government’s power to regulate commerce.
In September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed on procedural grounds two challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage provision. Regarding the challenge lodged by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Fourth Circuit panel, in part, cited the Tax Anti-Injunction Act as barring legal challenges to the law.
The D.C. Circuit majority, led by Judge Silberman, however, said it was not persuaded that the Anti-Injunction Act bars challenges to the minimum coverage. “We think that the Anti-Injunction Act does not, by its terms, cover the shared responsibility payment under the term ‘any tax.’” (In dissent, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, cited the Anti-Injunction Act as preventing the court from hearing the case until the law takes effect.)
Turning to the “primary argument” lodged against the Affordable Care Act – Congress exceeded its constitutional power pursuant to the Commerce Clause by requiring Americans to purchase a product, health care insurance – the majority found that although the mandate may be “novel,” so too is the challengers’ argument.” This legal challenge was brought by the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson.
“No Supreme Court case has ever held or implied that Congress’s Commerce Clause authority is limited to individuals who are presently engaging in activity involving, or substantially affecting, interstate commerce,” Silberman wrote.
In conclusion, 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.”
In blog post for the White House, Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior advisor, called today's ruling "yet another victory for the millions of Americans who are already benefitting from the law including the parents of children with preexisting conditions, women getting mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost, seniors saving hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs, and one million young adults now newly insured through their parent's plan."
To follow the litigation surrounding the health care reform law, visit ACS’s Affordable Care Act Resource Page.