The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Friday filed a brief [text, PDF] with the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website], arguing that the health care reform law [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] is constitutional. In January, a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida struck down the law [JURIST report] as a violation of the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] of the US Constitution. In its brief, the DOJ argued that the interstate health market can be regulated by Congress because it is fundamentally different from other markets due to the pervasive government involvement in health care spending. It also argued that the minimum coverage provision, which is the focus of the litigation, is constitutional because it regulates only economic activity, disputing the lower court's finding that failure to purchase health insurance could not be regulated as interstate commerce. Citing to the US Supreme Court case of Gonzales v. Raich [JURIST report], the brief argued that there only needed to be a rational basis [Cornell LII backgrounder] for Congress to believe that the regulated conduct substantially affects interstate commerce, which was met here.
Congress's findings and the legislative record leave no doubt that the minimum coverage provisionwhich regulates the way people pay for services in the interstate health care marketis a valid exercise of the commerce power under the standards established by the Supreme Court. It regulates activity that is commercial and economic in nature, and that substantially affects interstate commerce. First, Congress found that people who consume health care without insurance shift billions of dollars of costs annually to other participants in the interstate health care market. Second, Congress found that the minimum coverage provision is key to the viability of the Act's regulation of medical underwriting, which guarantees that everyone will be insurable regardless of illnesses or accidents.The DOJ also argued that the law was constitutional as an exercise of Congress's taxing power, and that plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit in the first place.
The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for initial hearing en banc [JURIST report] in the appeal. The order confirmed that the appeal will nonetheless be expedited. Oral arguments are currently scheduled for June 8 before a randomly-selected three-judge panel. The identities of the panel members will not be disclosed until at least 14 days before the arguments. Last month, the Obama administration filed a brief with the court contesting the plaintiff states' request [JURIST report] to have the appeal heard by an en banc court. Last month, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli filed a petition for a writ of certiorari [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court asking the court to rule on the constitutionality of the law on an expedited basis, before the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rules on the issue, but the Obama administration opposes the petition [JURIST report]. In January, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging a provision of the health care reform law. In October, a federal judge in Michigan ruled that the law is constitutional [JURIST report] under the Commerce Clause as it addresses the economic effects of health care decisions, and that it does not represent an unconstitutional direct tax.