Eleventh Circuit rules against part of ObamaCare

Bondi

ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - A federal appeals court has sided with 26 states in their challenge to President Barack Obama's health care reform.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled Friday that a provision of the law that requires individuals to purchase health insurance or face an annual penalty is unconstitutional. The ruling affirmed an earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of northern Florida.

"ObamaCare is closer to an end," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. "As we have maintained since before the law was first enacted, the individual mandate exceeds the constitutional limits on Congress' authority.

"The federal government cannot rely upon Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce in a misguided effort to require that every American purchase government-approved health insurance - whether they want it or not. No public policy goal, no matter how important or well-intentioned, can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution."

Twenty-six states challenged the Obama's law, which was signed in March 2010 and has been the subject of many legal challenges since. Florida, first under former Attorney General Bill McCollum and now through current AG Pam Bondi, has led the multistate challenge.

The Third Circuit ruled earlier in August that a group of New Jersey physicians did not have standing to challenge the law. The Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 in June for Obama, while the Fourth Circuit has not issued its ruling in Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's challenge.

All will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eleventh Circuit Chief Judge Joel Dubina authored Friday's opinion and was joined by Judge Frank Hull in the majority. Judge Stanley Marcus voted against the states.

"The individual mandate exceeds Congress's enumerated commerce power and is unconstitutional," Dubina wrote. "This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives."

In January, Vinson found that Congress was unconstitutionally regulating economic inactivity and, because the mandate is too integral a part to be separated, he voided the entire legislation. He called it "a difficult decision to reach."

Friday's decision, though, did not void the entire legislation.

"Excising the individual mandate from the Act does not prevent the remaining provisions from being 'fully operative as a law,'" Dubina wrote.

"In light of the stand-alone nature of hundreds of the Act's provisions and their manifest lack of connection to the individual mandate, the plaintiffs have not met the heavy burden needed to rebut the presumption of severability."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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