A federal appeals c0urt upheld this week the constitutionality of the 2010 health-care law, giving the Obama administration another appellate victory as the law nears an expected final review by the Supreme Court.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, found, in a 2 to 1 decision, that Congress acted within its authority to regulate interstate commerce when it required virtually all Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.  The dissenting judge argued that the case should be dismissed because the challenge was premature.

The swiftness with which the D.C. Circuit panel made its ruling–barely a month and a half after hearing oral arguments in the case–suggests that the judges were eager to influence the Supreme Court, which will consider requests to review four other appellate opinions on the health-care law in a private conference this week.  With split decision at the circuit level, the court is almost certain to take up the issue.

The case before the D.C. Circuit was brought by four individuals represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative litigation organization.  It argued that Congress’s authority over interstate commerce is limited to regulating individuals who are engaged in commercial “activity,”  arguing that Congress cannot compel individuals to enter into commerce by making them buy health insurance.

The Obama administration makes the case that because nearly everyone will need health care and hospitals are barred from turning away emergency cases people who go without insurance are already engaged in commerce.  They are making a decision about how the health care they will eventually need will be funded via their own pockets or by passing the cost on to providers or taxpayers.

The majority opinion of the panel affirmed a lower court ruling that agreed with the administration’s argument.  “That a direct requirement for most Americans to purchase any product or service seems an intrusive exercise of legislative power surely explains why Congress has not used this authority before,” Senior Judge Laurence Silberman wrote, “but that seems to us a political judgement rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations.”

 

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