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Eleventh Circuit hears arguments on constitutionality of new health care law

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments Wednesday over the constitutionality of the new health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive] and its individual mandate requiring citizens to purchase health insurance. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] appealed the decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] that the individual mandate exceeds [JURIST report] Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] and thus, the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional. Former solicitor general Paul Clement, representing Florida and 26 other states backing the lawsuit, argued to the court [Reuters report] that Congress has never before used the Commerce Clause power to force citizens to purchase something. The DOJ argued that the choice not to purchase insurance affects everyone. In the DOJ brief [JURIST report] it said: "Congress did not exceed its commerce power by opting to require minimum insurance coverage or the payment of a tax, instead of conditioning access to health care on the purchase of insurance and thereby denying the sick and injured access to medical care if they do not have coverage." Another issue in this case is, even if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional, whether that necessarily means the entire PPACA is unconstitutional. District Judge Roger Vinson found that the individual mandate was inseverable from the rest of the health care law. Last February, the DOJ asked Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the health care reform law [JURIST report] as the government appeals the ruling.

The PPACA has sparked several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in a similar challenge to the constitutionality of the individual mandate brought by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) [advocacy website]. But in that case the court of appeals asked the parties to address to standing concerns [JURIST report] of whether there is an injury in fact and whether review is precluded until after implementation of the law. The appeal stems from a ruling upholding [JURIST report] the PPACA and its individual mandate. Also last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] decided it can rule on two challenges to the PPACA after the court requested briefs from all parties on whether the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) [text], which prevents injunctions against taxes before the tax is imposed, would bar review of PPACA until it is implemented. The Fourth Circuit had already heard oral arguments [JURIST report] last month to resolve a split decision between the US district courts for the Eastern District of Virginia ruling against individual mandate provision and the Western District of Virginia dismissing a challenge [JURIST reports]. In May, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought to have its challenge reinstated [JURIST report] in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] after it was dismissed by the lower court.

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