D.C. appeals court finds health reform constitutional

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | November 08, 2011
A judge who has been hailed as a "conservative icon" ruled Tuesday that the Obama administration's health reform legislation is constitutional, saying that while it was an "encroachment" on liberty it was well within the scope of the federal government's powers, and compared requiring citizens to buy health insurance to the forced racial integration of restaurants.

The 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia makes it one of two appeals courts, including one in Cincinnati, to have backed the Affordable Care Act.

One appeals court, in Atlanta, rejected part of the law, declaring the individual mandate, which requires citizens to buy health insurance or face a penalty and the source of much of the controversy, unconstitutional.

However, an appeals court in Richmond, Va. declared for legal reasons it couldn't rule on the mandate until after it takes effect in 2014. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee who dissented from the current ruling, did so also for that reason.

Because of the split, it's widely expected that the Supreme Court will take up the issue. CNN reports that justices intend to mull their actions during a closed-door session Thursday. If the court decides to hear one of the numerous appeals, it would likely take up the case in March, CNN said.

"Encroachment on individual liberty"

In the current ruling, Laurence Silberman, joined by Senior Judge Harry Edwards, acknowledged that the mandate was an "encroachment on individual liberty" but concluded that it is "no more so than a command that restaurants or hotels are obliged to serve all customers regardless of race, that gravely ill individuals cannot use a substance their doctors described as the only effective palliative for excruciating pain, or that a farmer cannot grow enough wheat to support his own family."

"The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute, and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems, no matter how local — or seemingly passive — their individual origins," Silberman added.

The ruling was welcomed by the White House, with Stephanie Cutter, Obama's deputy senior adviser, hailing it on the administration's blog as "another victory for the millions of Americans who are already benefiting from the law, including the parents of children with preexisting conditions, women getting mammograms with no out-of-pocket cost, seniors saving hundreds of dollars on their prescription drugs and one million young adults now newly insured through their parent's plan."

The left-wing website ThinkProgress said the ruling by Silberman, a Ronald Regan-appointee whom it called a "conservative icon," was important as the judge had previously ruled in ways pleasing to conservatives, such as striking down D.C.'s handgun law.

"When a federal judge tells you that your argument has no basis in the text of the Constitution, it is a good sign you don't belong in court," the site said. "When that judge is Judge Laurence Silberman, a man who has stood at the pinnacle of conservative judicial thinking for decades, it is about as good a sign as you can hope for that the Supreme Court is not going to like your argument either."

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