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11th Circuit Strikes Down Insurance Mandate in Health Care Law, Creating Circuit Split

Posted Aug 12, 2011 1:34 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has struck down the insurance mandate in the Obama administration’s health care law.

A divided panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today, the Associated Press reports. The majority found that the mandate exceeds Congress’ powers under the commerce clause.

At issue is a requirement for individuals to buy health insurance or to pay a tax penalty. The majority said that that Congress cannot "mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die."

The government had argued that the individual mandate is constitutional because it regulates “quintessentially economic” activity—how Americans finance their health care needs. Under the government theory, the appeals court said, the government has power under the commerce clause to override individuals' spending decisions and redirect their funds for another purpose.

"The government’s position amounts to an argument that the mere fact of an individual’s existence substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore Congress may regulate them at every point of their life," the majority wrote. "This theory affords no limiting principles in which to confine Congress’ enumerated power.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Jay Bookman blog has selected quotes.

Voting to strike down the insurance mandate were Chief Judge Joel Dubina, appointed by President George W. Bush, and Judge Frank Hull, appointed by President Clinton, the Washington Post reports. Twenty-six states were among the plaintiffs challenging the law.

The ruling creates a circuit split. An opinion by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. A cert petition seeks Supreme Court review of the 6th Circuit ruling.

Liberty Counsel has posted the 11th Circuit opinion (PDF). Its challenge to the law is pending before the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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