Another Federal Judge Upholds Healthcare Reform Law

December 01, 2010

December 1, 2010 — Another federal judge — this one in Lynchburg, Virginia — has declared that the mandate for individuals to obtain health insurance under the new healthcare reform law complies with the US Constitution.

US District Judge Norman Moon ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also will not force anyone to compromise his or her opposition to abortion, contrary to the claims of Liberty University, the private Christian institution that filed suit against the law along with several individuals.

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of the ACA await imminent decisions from a federal court in Richmond, Virginia, and one in Pensacola, Florida, on challenges to the law filed by numerous state attorneys general and governors.

More than a dozen anti-ACA lawsuits have been brought against the Obama administration in various federal courts. Some decisions so far have favored the plaintiffs, others the Obama administration. In October, a federal judge in Michigan affirmed the constitutional soundness of the law in a suit filed by a Christian legal defense organization called the Thomas More Law Center. A federal judge in California granted a motion by the Obama administration to dismiss a suit there.

However, federal judges in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida have denied motions to dismiss anti-ACA lawsuits in their courts. US District Judge Henry Hudson, in Richmond, Virginia, has said he may issue a summary judgment — a decision reached without a trial — in the case before him by year's end. That suit was filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II, a Republican.

A decision also could be forthcoming during the next several months from US District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, who is scheduled to hear oral arguments on motions for summary judgments on December 16. That lawsuit has drawn the most attention because the plaintiffs include the attorneys general from 16 states and the governors of 4 more. All but one plaintiff are Republicans.

Adding to the star quality of the Florida case are 16 "friend of the court" briefs filed by proponents and opponents of the ACA. Proponents include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, and the governors of Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Among the opponents are 32 Republican members of the Senate; twice as many Republican members of the House, including Rep. John E. Boehner (R-OH), who will become the new House Speaker next year; the governors of Minnesota and Rhode Island; and the Family Research Council.

In one sense, the lawsuits playing out in federal district courts are dress rehearsals for the Supreme Court. Legal experts expect the high court to consider the constitutionality of the ACA, especially if federal appellate courts eventually reach conflicting decisions on cases from the lower courts.

Liberty University Says ACA Will Force It to Associate With Abortion Supporters

Similar to the plaintiffs in the other federal cases, Liberty University took aim at a key provision in the ACA — the requirement that individuals obtain health insurance coverage or else pay a penalty. The Obama administration justifies this "individual mandate" under the constitution's Commerce clause, which permits Congress to regulate interstate commerce. The university's lawsuit states that the individual mandate lies outside the scope of the Commerce clause, because it does not regulate interstate commerce per se but, rather, the "economic inactivity" of individuals who decline to be insured.

In his ruling yesterday, US District Judge Norman Moon agreed with the Obama administration's claim that "decisions to forego health insurance coverage are economic and substantially affect the interstate healthcare market." The reasoning here is that the uninsured can receive care for little or no money— in emergency departments, for example. The cost of that care is shifted to other market participants such as physicians and hospitals and, ultimately, insured individuals in the form of higher premiums. In addition, individuals who forego insurance shrink the risk pool, and thus drive up premiums that way.

The federal judge in Michigan who ruled in favor of the Obama administration reached the same conclusions about the individual mandate.

Moon also rejected the claim by Liberty University that the ACA violated its religious rights under the constitution. Among other things, the university said that the law would require it to "risk taking part in funding abortions" and force it to associate "with others who are complicit in elective abortions," which are contrary to the institution's mission.

Moon ruled that the ACA "explicitly states that no plan is required to cover any form of abortion services." He also noted that the law "contains strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered."

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