DC Court of Appeals Upholds Individual Mandate


In a decision penned by a prominent conservative, the court became the third appellate body to uphold the mandate compared with one that has ruled to strike it down. But the Supreme Court is likely to have the last word.

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit voted to uphold the individual mandate portion of President Obama’s health care reform law on Tuesday. Of four appellate courts that have considered the mandate, three have now upheld it, though one of these determined that it did not have jurisdiction over the law until penalties for failing to purchase health insurance go into effect in 2014.

The DC court’s decision rejecting the argument that the requirement to purchase a minimum level of health insurance coverage is an unconstitutional encroachment on individual liberty was written by a prominent conservative, Judge Laurence H. Silberman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He was joined in his 37-page opinion by Judge Harry Edwards, appointed by President Jimmy Carter. Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, argued that the court could not consider the mandate until its penalties go into effect.

Opponents of the individual mandate have argued that the government lacks constitutional authority to require people to purchase a product that they may never need. In response, Silberman wrote as follows:

“[I]t is irrelevant that an indeterminate number of healthy, uninsured persons will never consume health care, and will therefore never affect the interstate market. Broad regulation is an inherent feature of Congress’s constitutional authority in this area; to regulate complex, nationwide economic problems is to necessarily deal in generalities. Congress reasonably determined that as a class, the uninsured create market failures; thus, the lack of harm attributable to any particular uninsured individual, like their lack of overt participation in a market, is of no consequence.

“That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before—but that seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations. 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 gravely ill individuals cannot use a substance their doctors described as the only effective palliative for excruciating pain … 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 local—or seemingly passive—their individual origins.”

Since different appellate courts have issued contrary rulings on the mandate, the Supreme Court is likely to consider its constitutionality over the next year.

Around the Web

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Decision (pdf)

Health Law Survives Test in Court of Appeals [New York Times]

Health care in court: Obama leading 3-1, but it ain’t over 'til it’s over [Christian Science Monitor]

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