Appeals Court Holds Hearing on Decision Overturning Obamacare

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 8, 2011   |   4:48PM   |   Atlanta, GA

A federal appeals court today held a hearing on a judge’s ruling declaring the entire Obamacare law unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, in January, ruled the individual mandate is unconstitutional and, therefore, the entire law is as well.

The individual mandate is a portion of the law independent and conservative voters most strongly oppose because it requires Americans to purchase health insurance, that could fund abortions with taxpayer funds or premiums, whether they want to or not. The case the state of Florida and more than two dozen others made to Judge Vinson is that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the Constitution does not allow Congress to regulate financial inactivity.

Leading pro-life groups opposed the Obamacare bill because of loopholes allowing abortion funding and rationing issues.

In March, Vinson issued a second opinion as he noted with quite a bit of consternation that it had been more than a month since his original ruling and the Obama administration has not filed any papers related to its appeal.

Today, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from Florida officials and the Obama administration and the Associated Press indicates they seemed responsive to the concerns Florida outlined about the unconstitutional provisions of the government-run health care program.

This is the third federal appeals court to take a case challenging Obamacare — as a three-judge federal appeals court panel in Cincinnati listened to arguments last week about the individual mandate and a federal appeals court based in Virginia heard a case that state brought forward. Although the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue the final decision in one bundled case, the appeals court decisions are important to set up that battle.

“I can’t find any case like this,” said Chief Judge Joel Dubina of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. “If we uphold this, are there any limits” on the power of the federal government he asked.

Judge Stanley Marcus appeared to agree, according to AFP, and asked, “I can’t find any case” in the past where the courts upheld “telling a private person they are compelled to purchase a product in the open market…. Is there anything that suggests Congress can do this?”

Judge Frank Hull asked attorneys about the ramifications of striking down the individual mandate but upholding the remainder of the law.

The Georgia-based appeals court is a conservative one expected to uphold Judge Vinson’s decision but two of the three judges on the panel are appointees of former President Bill Clinton and they may issue a different decision that the full appeals court may have to consider.

Former U.S. Solicitor Paul Clement represented the states challenging the law and U.S. Solicitor Neal Katyal spoke for the Obama administration.

Katyal argued that health care is unique and unlike purchasing other products because taxpayers must pay for the medical bills of those who are uninsured. Clement responded by saying, “In 220 years, Congress never saw fit to use this power, to compel to engage in commerce.”

Vinson, in his March ruling, issued a stay of his own decision and he said, “The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” adding that “the citizens of this country have an interest in having this case resolved as soon as practically possible.”

“That was nearly eleven months ago,” he wrote. “In the time since, the battle lines have been drawn, the relevant case law marshaled, and the legal arguments refined. Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the Act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward.”

“It is likely that the Court of Appeals will also reach divergent results and that, as most court-watchers predict, the Supreme Court may eventually be split on this issue as well,” he wrote.

In his original ruling in January striking Obamacare, Judge Vinson wrote, “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled ‘The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.’”

“Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution,” the judge wrote. “This case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government.”

“Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with individual mandate,” he added.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington joined Florida in the lawsuit. Earlier in January, six additional states joined them: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming.