A federal appeals court rejects the individual mandate, the crux
of Obama's health-care reform. With another appeals court having
already upheld the law, a Supreme Court showdown is far more likely.
The federal appeals court decision on Friday striking down the
centerpiece of President Obama's health-care reform law, moves the
country one step closer to a potential constitutional showdown at
the US Supreme Court over the scope of federal power.
A panel of the Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals, voting 2 to
1, ruled that Congress exceeded its authority in the health-care law
by requiring every American to purchase a government-approved level
of health insurance or face a penalty.
The decision by the Atlanta-based appeals court is in direct
opposition to a 2-to-1 decision announced June 29 by the Cincinnati-
based Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals.
That appeals court panel upheld the so-called individual mandate
provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ruling that Congress's
powers under the Constitution's commerce clause were broad enough to
order individuals to purchase and maintain private insurance
Constitutional scholars are awaiting a decision on the same issue
from the Richmond-based Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the fact that two of the three appeals courts have ruled and
reached different conclusions significantly increases the likelihood
that the Supreme Court will agree to examine the issue, legal
In its ruling on Friday, the 11th Circuit panel struck down the
individual mandate, but declined to follow the lead of a lower court
judge in Florida, who ruled the entire ACA null and void.
Instead, the appeals court said it would allow the rest of the
reform law to remain undisturbed. That action preserves features of
the ACA, including the directive that insurance companies may not
refuse coverage because of preexisting medical conditions and a
measure that allows parents to continue to insure their children
into their 20s.
Friday's decision stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of 26
states and a business group challenging the constitutionality of the
The court rejected an argument by the states that the expansion
of Medicaid under the ACA, which requires the states to administer a
larger program, amounts to unconstitutional coercion of the states
by the federal government. The panel also rejected the Obama
administration's argument that the ACA should be upheld under the
government's taxing powers. The court said the punishment assessed
for noncompliance with the insurance mandate was a penalty rather
than a tax.
But the big ticket portion of the appeal related to the
constitutionality of the individual mandate.
"The federal government's assertion of power, under the commerce
clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase
insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their
lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our
federalist structure," Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Judge Frank Hull
wrote in the jointly-authored opinion.
"Although courts must give due consideration to the policy
choices of the political branches, the judiciary owes its ultimate
deference to the Constitution," they wrote.
Some analysts noted that the majority included a judge appointed
by a Republican president and a judge appointed by a Democratic
president. Chief Judge Dubina was appointed by George H. …