Victory for Obamacare: GOP Judge Backs 'Individual Mandate'
A split 6th Circuit Court of Appeals calls law constitutional, others criticize Congress
Around the State
In a 2-1 decision, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld Obamacare on Wednesday, ruling that the law's individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance is "a valid exercise of Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause."
The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the conservative Thomas More Law Center. It was the first time a federal appellate court ruled on the controversial law.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton, one of the judges who voted to uphold the act, clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and was nominated by George W. Bush.
Previous lower-court rulings for and against the Affordable Care Act have split along partisan lines, with Republican-appointed district judges rejecting the law and Democratic appointees favoring it.
The 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta is currently considering the case brought by Florida and 25 other states against Obamacare. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has ruled the law and its individual mandate unconstitutional.
Ultimately, legal observers on both sides agree that the matter will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the Thomas More suit, which is separate from the challenges filed by Florida and Virginia, the 6th Circuit panel -- whose jurisdiction covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee -- declared:
"By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons.
"First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance."
While Democrats hailed the decision, a legal affairs analyst for the libertarian-leaning CATO Institute called it "an exercise in overzealous judicial deference."
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies, said he expected the affirming decision from Judge Boyce Martin, who Shapiro said "regularly rubber-stamps misuses of federal power." But the CATO scholar attacked Sutton for "avoiding the logical implications of this ruling and punting the main issue to the Supreme Court."
"While a progressive like Judge Martin could be expected to accept any exercise of federal power, it is shocking that an avowed constitutionalist like Judge Sutton requires Congress to show only a rational basis behind what it does -- a 'reasonable fit' between the means it chooses and the ends of regulating interstate commerce -- to survive constitutional scrutiny.
"Under such logic, Congress can do anything it wants so far as it was essential to a larger regulatory scheme. That cannot be the law," Shapiro concluded.
Karen Harned, executive director of the Small Business Legal Center at the National Federation of Independent Business, which joined the Florida challenge, said, "We are disappointed, obviously, but it's the first of many decisons and we believe we will prevail in the end."
Said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, "The federal insurance mandate is an unprecedented and unconstitutional encroachment on individual liberty. Today's ruling has no bearing on Florida's case, which is pending before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless, this is an issue that will require final resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court."
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