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DOJ to respond to judge's order to explain Obama statements on health care rulings

US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] said Wednesday that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will respond to a federal appellate judge in Texas who demanded a letter recognizing the federal courts' authority to strike down laws that are passed by Congress. On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] issued an order [text, PDF] demanding that the administration of President Barack Obama [official website] submit a letter clarifying its position on the right of federal courts to strike down federal laws. The order calls for a three-page letter by Thursday. The demand was made after Obama criticized the actions of federal judges who have struck down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) [text; JURIST backgrounder] as unconstitutional. Holder announced during a press conference in Chicago that the DOJ will respond "appropriately" to Smith's request. Holder also stated that "Under our system of government ... courts have the final say on the constitutionality of statutes. ... The courts are also fairly deferential when it comes to overturning statutes that the duly elected representatives of the people, Congress, pass." Holder did not indicate whether the DOJ would respond within the time frame requested by Smith.

Debate over the law has been ongoing since Congress passed [JURIST report] comprehensive health care reform in March 2010. The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments in the case of United States Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida over the course of an unprecedented three days last month. On day one of oral arguments [JURIST report], the court heard arguments on the issue of whether the PPACA is is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act of 1867 (AIA) [text]. On day two [JURIST report], the court heard arguments focused specifically on the constitutionality of the "individual mandate" provision [text], which requires every person, with some exceptions for religious and other reasons, to purchase some form of health insurance by January 1, 2014, or be subject to a penalty. On the final day [JURIST report], the court heard arguments on the issue of whether the "individual mandate" can be severed from the rest of the PPACA. The Supreme Court agreed to rule on [JURIST report] the health care law case in November of last year on appeal from US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website], which ruled in August that the individual mandate is unconstitutional but severable [JURIST report], upholding the rest of the law.

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