Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Federal Judge In Washington, D.C., Rules Health Care Law Passes Constitutional Muster

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., acting on a motion by defendants, on February 22 dismissed a lawsuit brought by five individuals seeking a declaration that the individual mandate provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is unconstitutional on its face. (Mead v. Holder, Case No. 1:10-cv-00950-GK, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) The plaintiffs also argued that the individual mandate runs counter to provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The five plaintiffs reside in Texas, New York and North Carolina. The defendants are Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the Treasury Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. This is the fifth federal district court decision addressing the constitutionality of the PPACA. Three judges, all appointed by Democratic presidents, have upheld its constitutionality, while two Republican-appointed jurists have ruled the law unconstitutional in whole or in part. In her decision, Judge Gladys Kessler made clear that the only issues concerning the PPACA are whether the individual mandate “passes muster under the Constitution” and whether it violates the religious freedom law. Citing U.S. v. Lopez, (1995, S Ct) 514 U.S. 549, and U.S. v. Morrison, (2000, S Ct) 529 U.S. 598, Judge Kessler wrote: “These two cases establish that (1) the activity subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause must be economic in nature, (2) the link between the activity and the interstate commerce must not be too attenuated, and (3) other activities may be upheld if they are an essential part of a larger regulatory scheme.” The individual mandate satisfies these requirements, Kessler wrote. Addressing RFRA-related issues, the court found the individual mandate does not substantially burden the exercise of the plaintiffs' religious faith, and the provision serves a compelling public interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. The American Center for Law and Justice, which represented the plaintiffs, said on February 25 that it has filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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