Health Law

5th Circuit rejects nationwide injunction in challenge to task force's insurer mandates

  • Print

gavel and stethoscope

A task force that issued preventive care mandates for insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act had “unreviewable power” that violated the Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled. (Image from Shutterstock)

A task force that issued preventive care mandates for insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act had “unreviewable power” that violated the Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans said the authority given to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force violated the appointments clause in Article II of the Constitution, report Law360 and

“We hold that members of the task force are principal officers under Article II of the Constitution who must be—yet have not been—nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate,” wrote Justice Don R. Willett for the 5th Circuit panel in a June 21 opinion.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can’t cure the constitutional problem by ratifying the task force decisions because he has no statutory authority to revise, review or issue such preventive care recommendations, according to the 5th Circuit.

The decision was a partial win for four people and two Christian-owned businesses that challenged the task force mandate for HIV prevention drugs on religious grounds. While the appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs’ appointments clause argument, it significantly narrowed an injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas.

The panel granted an injunction that barred enforcement of the preventive health mandates against the plaintiffs. But the appeals court reversed a nationwide injunction that prevented enforcement of the health mandate across the country.

The plaintiffs were not entitled to nationwide revocation of the task force recommendations under Section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act because there was no APA claim, the appeals court said.

“It follows, in our view, that there was also no basis for the universal injunction,” Willett wrote.

Several U.S. Supreme Court justices have viewed universal injunctions “with conspicuous skepticism,” Willett said. In a footnote, he cited statements by Justices Neil Gorsuch, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

“We have no reason to uphold relief broader than what is necessary to redress the plaintiffs’ injuries,” Willett wrote. “Though this case concerns federal law and necessarily implicates concerns of nationwide uniformity, it does not fall into one of the narrow categories that we have previously identified as particularly appropriate for universal injunctive relief.”

In a footnote, Willett cited immigration cases granting nationwide injunctions because of a need for uniformity and consistency in enforcement and the ineffectiveness of a geographically limited injunction.

The appeals court didn’t decide whether Becerra effectively ratified the recommendations of two other administrative bodies that issue preventive care guidelines. Additional issues should first be considered by O’Connor, the 5th Circuit said.

Willett and a second judge on the panel, Judge Cory Wilson, are appointees of former President Donald Trump, Reuters points out. A third judge, Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez, is an appointee of President Joe Biden.

The plaintiffs are represented by America First Legal, a conservative legal group, and co-counsel Jonathan F. Mitchell.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Constitution, the rule of law and every American who does not want unelected bureaucrats making decisions about their health care coverage,” said Gene Hamilton, director of America First Legal, in a June 21 statement.

The case is Braidwood Management v. Becerra.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.