By JENNIFER HABERKORN |
8/12/11 1:29 PM EDT
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled that the health care reform law’s requirement that nearly all Americans buy insurance is unconstitutional, a striking blow to the legislation that increases the odds that the Supreme Court will have to review the law.
The suit was brought by 26 states — nearly all led by Republican governors and attorneys general. The Department of Justice is expected to appeal.
The 2-1 ruling marks the first time a judge appointed by a Democrat has voted to strike down the mandate. Judge Frank Hull, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, joined Chief Judge Joel Dubina, who was appointed by George H.W. Bush, to strike down the mandate.
Judge Stanley Marcus, in a dissenting opinion, said the mandate is constitutional. He was also appointed by Clinton.
The panel partially upheld a ruling issued in January by Judge Roger Vinson, who struck down the entire health reform law. However, the 11th Circuit said that the rest of the legislation can stand even if the mandate is unconstitutional.
The panel also said that the law’s expansion of Medicaid is constitutional, ruling against the states.
The majority of the panel said they couldn’t uphold the mandate because there would be no limit to Congress’s powers if they did. Opponents of the law have frequently argued that if Congress can require people to buy insurance, they can force people to do anything else, such as buy broccoli or a gym membership for their health benefits.
The federal government argued that the law only regulates how people obtain health care — something all Americans will need at some point in their lives. They say the uniqueness of the market makes the health field different than broccoli or gym purchases.
“We have not found any generally applicable, judicially enforceable limiting principle that would permit us to uphold the mandate without obliterating the boundaries inherent in the system of enumerated congressional powers,” Dubina and Hull wrote. “’Uniqueness’ is not a constitutional principle in any antecedent Supreme Court decision.”
The ruling comes six weeks after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the mandate in a similar suit. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard two related cases in May, has not issued its rulings yet.
The split rulings make the suit a strong contender to be taken up by the Supreme Court in the fall term.
The Thomas More Law Center, which lost the 6th Circuit ruling, has already filed its appeal.
The federal government will have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court or ask the entire 11th Circuit to review the ruling.