D.C. Appellate Court Upholds Constitutionality Of Obamacare

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A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — comprised of two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one by a Democrat — upheld the constitutionality of a key section of President Obama’s health care law in a ruling released Tuesday.

Senior Judge Laurence Silberman and Judge Harry Edwards ruled to uphold the law — specifically the mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance — on the merits. Judge Brett Kavanaugh dissented from their ruling, but he, too, would have ruled against the plaintiffs seeking to overturn the mandate. His opinion argued that federal courts lack jurisdiction to enjoin the mandate, which functions similarly to a tax.

Silberman, a conservative all-star, was first nominated to the D.C. Circuit by Ronald Reagan, and became a senior judge when Kavanaugh — a George W. Bush nominee — was confirmed to the court. Edwards was nominated by Jimmy Carter.In their opinion, Silberman and Edwards conclude that penalizing individuals for failing to obtain health insurance is within Congress’ powers under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

“We acknowledge some discomfort with the Government’s failure to advance any clear doctrinal principles limiting congressional mandates that any American purchase any product or service in interstate commerce,” the opinion reads. “But to tell the truth, those limits are not apparent to us, either because the power to require the entry into commerce is symmetrical with the power to prohibit or condition commercial behavior, or because we have not yet perceived a qualitative limitation. That difficulty is troubling, but not fatal, not least because we are interpreting the scope of a long-established constitutional power, not recognizing a new constitutional right. … It suffices for this case to recognize, as noted earlier, that the health insurance market is a rather unique one, both because virtually everyone will enter or affect it, and because the uninsured inflict a disproportionate harm on the rest of the market as a result of their later consumption of health care services.”

The plaintiffs in this case — Susan Seven-Sky et al — also lost in D.C. district court, where they argued that by passing the individual insurance mandate, Congress violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed that case and affirmed Congress acted within its Commerce Clause powers in enacting the individual mandate. You can read the entire Circuit Court ruling here:

Decision

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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