The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] issued a ruled [text] 2-1 on Tuesday to uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [HP 3590 text; JURIST news archive]. Senior Circuit Judges Laurence Silberman in his opinion affirmed that Congress did not overstep its Article One [text] constitutional authority by requiring citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty on their taxes. The lawsuit, brought by the American Center for Law and Justice [advocacy website], claimed that the mandate unlawfully forces Americans to purchase a product for as long as they live, and that it also offends the First Amendment [text] religious freedoms of those who choose to rely on God for protection rather than purchased insurance. The court dismissed this argument. Judge Silberman cited several past federal mandates to support the majority:
It certainly is an encroachment on individual liberty, but it is no more so than a command that restaurants or hotels are obliged to serve all customers regardless of race ... or that a farmer cannot grow enough wheat to support his own family. ... 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 localor seemingly passivetheir individual origins.Although Judge Brett Kavanaugh disagreed with the majority, his opinion does not take a position based on merits of the law. Rather, the dissent contends that the court lacks and will continue to lack jurisdiction to review the PPACA until the date of its effect in 2014.
This latest decision regarding the constitutionality of the PPACA's individual mandate is perhaps yet another step toward the law's ultimate fate in the US Supreme Court [official website]. As of now, there are three health care appeals pending before the court. In October, both the state of Virginia and Liberty University appealed a ruling [JURIST report] made by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] that rejected all claims based on a lack of standing. Shortly before that, in September, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) along with 26 individual states asked the court to review a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website], which asserted that the PPACA's individual mandate is unconstitutional [JURIST report], but that the remainder of the act is not. While the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] upheld the PPACA's individual mandate in June, the decision was also appealed [JURIST reports] to the Supreme Court by the Thomas More Law Center.
For more information, see JURIST's feature on Health Care Reform.