Constitutional Law

6th Circuit Upholds Health Care Law's Insurance Mandate

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

In a 2-1 opinion (PDF), the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a requirement for individuals to buy health insurance or to pay a tax penalty. The plaintiffs challenging the law—the Thomas More Law Center and four individuals—had claimed the mandate exceeded Congress’ authority under the commerce clause.

Judges Boyce Martin and Jeffrey Sutton upheld the law, while Judge James Graham dissented. Sutton is the first judge appointed by a Republican president to find the law constitutional, Politico reports. He was nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush.

Sutton emphasized in a concurring opinion that the plaintiffs had brought a facial challenge to the insurance mandate before it is scheduled to take effect in 2014, and they face a high hurdle. As-applied challenges may be brought later, he said.

Sutton, however, sided with Martin in poking holes in the plaintiffs’ argument that Congress has no power under the commerce clause to regulate inactivity—the decision not to buy insurance.

“When Warren Buffett tells shareholders that ‘[w]e continue to make more money when snoring than when active,’” Sutton wrote, “he is not urging the Board of Directors to place him in a Rip Van Winkle-like stupor for the next year. He is saying that, of the many buy and sell recommendations that came across his desk that year, the best thing he could have done is the informed, even masterful, inaction of saying no to all of them. No one is inactive when deciding how to pay for health care.”

Two other federal appeals courts are also considering the constitutionality of the law.

Hat tip to How Appealing. The Associated Press, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) also have coverage.

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