Federal Appeals Court Panel Upholds Obamacare Against Lawsuit

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2011   |   1:19PM   |   Washington, DC

A federal appeals court upheld the Obamacare health care law that pro-life groups opposed because of abortion funding and rationing concerns, though the lawsuit is not either of the two premier lawsuits filed by Florida, Virginia and other states.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the individual mandate contained in the 2010 health care law on a 2-1 vote. The ruling claims Congress has the power to force individuals to buy health insurance under its authority to regulate interstate commerce — the main argument the Obama administration has been using to defend the law against the multiple lawsuits organizations, lawmakers and states have filed.

“We find that the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce Clause,” the court wrote.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision came in the case of Thomas More Law Center v. Barack Obama and other challenges to Obamacare remain pending in other federal appeals courts, like the Eleventh Circuit, Fourth Circuit, and D.C. Circuit.

A Michigan federal judge issued the first ruling in any of the cases concerning the Thomas More suit and upheld the law. U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh in Detroit rejected some of the claims filed in the lawsuit presented by the Thomas More Law Center, a pro-life legal group, saying Congress overreached in passing the law.

The lawsuit says Congress exceeded the powers it has under the Commerce Clause in instituting a penalty for people who fail to purchase health insurance under the exchanges. Steeh ruled that the Thomas More Law Center and the four Michigan plaintiffs it represented had standing to challenge the Health Care Reform Act and that the challenge was ripe for review. However, he held that Congress has the authority under its Commerce Clause power to enact the individual mandate provision of the Act, which requires individuals to purchase health care insurance under penalty of federal law.

Richard Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the pro-life firm, said, “Obama Care is one of the most oppressive measures in the history of our Nation. And it was passed by Congress despite overwhelming opposition of the American people. It was not about reforming health care, but government seizure of unprecedented power over our lives. We will continue to challenge it in the courts.”

In its ruling, the district court stated, “While plaintiffs describe the Commerce Clause power as reaching economic activity, the government’s characterization of the Commerce Clause reaching economic decisions is more accurate.”

In May, three federal appeals court judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit were selected to hold hearings on two cases brought in Virginia challenging the law. The first, filed by Liberty University, and the second, an appeal by the Obama administration of a federal judge’s decision against Obamacare in the case filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinell.

Last year U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled Congress exceeded its authority by forcing Americans to buy health insurance via the individual mandate while Virginia had passed a law barring the federal government from making its citizens buy health insurance.

The Obama administration is so concerned about the lawsuit that the pro-abortion president has dispatched acting solicitor general Neal Kumar Katyal, who normally argues before the Supreme Court, to argue for upholding Obamacare. Matthew Staver, a pro-life attorney, argued for Liberty University, while state solicitor general E. Duncan Getchell, Jr. presented the case for Virginia.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court 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.

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.

“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?”

Recently, the U.S. Senate rejected a move by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to have the Senate approve a bill the House approved to repeal Obamacare. Senators voted along party lines with all Democrats — including three who say they are pro-life — voting against repealing the abortion-funding bill while all Republicans supported repeal.

When Congress passed the government-run health care bill, it did so without any limits on abortion funding and language mandating taxpayer financing of abortion in certain circumstances. Obama eventually issued a controversial executive order supposedly taking the abortion funding issue off the table.

However, virtually every pro-life group said it would not mitigate the abortion funding because it doesn’t have the effect of law, could be reversed in the future, and because it didn’t tackle much of the abortion funding in the bill. The Obama administration could also ignore the order and not put it in place when the health care law goes into effect.

Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana have passed similar bills that have already been signed into law by governors in those states and several other states are expected to consider legislation in their upcoming legislative sessions. Other states have followed suit.