Decision Day: Federal Appeals Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act
In exciting (and hugely important) news that broke earlier this afternoon, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the health care law, including the key individual responsibility provision that requires everyone to purchase health insurance, as constitutional. Here’s the rundown of everything you need to know to talk about this at dinner tonight.
Who: The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in. The three judge panel who heard the case included two judges appointed by Republican presidents and one appointed by a Democrat.
In fact, one of the judges who upheld the law, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, is a states’ rights crusader who was appointed by President George W. Bush. Judge Sutton even once clerked for the very conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
What: The first of the circuit courts of appeals (the federal courts just below the Supreme Court) to rule on the health care law today affirmed a lower court’s decision that also found the Affordable Care Act constitutional. Judge Martin wrote, “We find that the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce Clause and therefore AFFIRM the decision of the district court.” According to Martin:
By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons. First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance.
This case was brought by the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based organization that describes itself as “a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life.” In addition to its role in this case and other cases involving public displays of religion, the Thomas More Law Center also actively promotes the thoroughly-debunked conservative conspiracy theory of “creeping Sharia.” The center even recently defended hate Pastor Terry Jones, whose burning of a Koran touched off riots in that resulted in the deaths of 12 United Nations workers.
Why It Matters: ThinkProgress Justice Editor Ian Milhiser sums up why this decision is so important:
[Judge] Sutton concluded that the heart of the assault on the Affordable Care Act — the claim that a law encouraging people to buy insurance is unconstitutional because Congress cannot compel people to take this unwanted action — has no basis in the “text of the Constitution,” and it rests on a legal distinction that is utterly incoherent. And this comes from one of the most conservative members of the federal bench.[...]The case against the Affordable Care Act is so weak that one of the court of appeals’ most conservative judges — a judge who devoted much of his life to shrinking federal power — just rejected it. Now would be a good time for the nation to collectively stop pretending that these lawsuits have any merit whatsoever.What’s Next: There are also decisions pending in three other federal appeals courts: the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals based in, Virgina (in a case brought by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli) the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals based in (in case brought by over two dozen GOP state officials), and the Circuit Court of Appeals (in a case brought by several private individuals).
It is widely expected that these cases will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court sometime next year.
The Score: Today’s decision to uphold the act is the first by at the circuit court level. At the federal district court level, three judges have ruled the law to be constitutional, while two other judges have ruled against it. More than a dozen cases against the law have been thrown out on technical grounds.