WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Two years after President Barack Obama's health care reform package, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on its constitutionality.
Monday marked the first day of three the court has scheduled for oral arguments in several lawsuits that challenged the health care law. Chief among the issues is a mandate that requires individuals who do not purchase health insurance to pay a $695 penalty every year.
Fourteen states, later joined by 12 more, challenged the mandate two years ago.
"The individual mandate is manifestly unconstitutional," attorneys for the states and the National Federation of Independent Business wrote in 2010.
"No enumerated power of Congress permits this assertion of top-down centralized economic power; nor can the Necessary and Proper Clause expand congressional power to support the mandate.
"Congress' commerce power extends to regulation of activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce, but does not allow it to compel inactive individuals to enter a marketplace against their will."
Also being debated is whether the entire package would fail if the mandate is ruled out.
A lawsuit filed by 26 states says the mandate is unconstitutional and the rest of the reform package should be declared void.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled for the states in 2011 but did not find that the mandate was essential to the entire law. A district court judge in Florida had. Both agreed that the mandate was regulating economic inactivity.
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's case that he did not have standing to challenge the law on behalf of the state of Virginia because the State wouldn't be affected by the mandate. Only individual Virginians would be, the court said in overturning a district judge's ruling.
The Sixth Circuit sided with the federal government in a 2-1 decision, writing that Congress could conclude that the actions of the self-insured substantially affect interstate commerce.
The Third Circuit ruled in August that a group of New Jersey doctors did not have standing to challenge the law. The doctors could not allege an "actual" injury, the court ruled.
The D.C. Circuit upheld the mandate earlier this year, ruling, "The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute."
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.