In a victory for the Obama administration, the D.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of a key provision of the health care law.
The 2-1 decision is sure to embolden the Obama administration because it was written by Laurence H. Silberman, a Ronald Reagan appointee, who is considered one of the leading conservative jurists on the bench.
At issue before the three-judge panel was the individual mandate, a central provision of the Affordable Care Act, which requires individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
“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,” Silberman wrote.
He was joined in the decision by Judge Harry T. Edwards, a Carter nominee.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who cast the dissenting vote, was appointed by George W. Bush; he said he would have dismissed the case on jurisdictional issues.
The D.C. Circuit becomes the third appeals court to reject challenges to the law. Only the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the mandate.
White House official Stephanie Cutter, deputy senior advisor to the President, praised the decision.
“The ruling is yet another victory for the millions of Americans who are already benefitting from the law including the parents of children with preexisting conditions, women getting mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost, seniors saving hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs, and one million young adults now newly insured through their parent’s plan.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, the group that brought the suit on behalf of four individuals, said he was disappointed by the decision and vowed to appeal.
“This decision reinforces the fact that the courts are split about this flawed health care law, ” Sekulow said in a statement.
“As we determine our next course of action – whether to ask the full appeals court to hear the case – or directly ask the Supreme Court to take the case – we still remain confident that ObamaCare and the individual mandate, which forces Americans to purchase health insurance, is the wrong prescription for America and ultimately will be struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Stephen I. Vladeck, professor of law at American University, emphasized the importance of the decision coming from Judge Silberman.
“Judge Silberman has historically been recognized as one of the stronger conservative voices on the federal appellate bench. That even he finds the ACA constitutional—and believes the real issue here is about individual rights, not Congress’s power—makes the challengers’ odds that much longer with Supreme Court review looming,” said Vladeck.
But Randy Barnett, a professor of law at Georgetown University, who is representing challengers to the law in a separate suit, said that Judge Silberman got it wrong.
“Judge Silberman’s decision boils down to Congress having unlimited power to address what it deems to be a national problem. That destroys the federal system of limited federal power.”
The Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss the various challenges to the law behind closed doors on Thursday. It could decide as early as this week whether it will hear one or more of the cases this term.
Although this case is not one of the challenges directly in front of the justices, those who support the law believe the justices will be influenced by today’s opinion.
“On the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision whether to review the constitutionality of health care reform legislation, the nation’s second most important court has dealt a devastating blow to the challengers of the Act, delivered by one of the country’s foremost conservative jurists, “said Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel for the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.