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In major test, appeals court upholds Democratic healthcare law

June 29, 2011|By Noam N. Levey and David G. Savage
  • Dr. Lee Sanders examines Aalliyah Negron, 6, as her sister Jensenia Bonilla, 4, and mother, Gladys Bonilla, watch in an examination room at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. The new healthcare law will benefit Aalliyah, who has preexisting conditions.
Dr. Lee Sanders examines Aalliyah Negron, 6, as her sister Jensenia Bonilla,… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )

The healthcare law President Obama signed last year survived its first test before a federal appellate court Wednesday, as the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati concluded that the law’s insurance requirement is constitutional.

“We find that the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce Clause,” the judges said in rejecting a legal challenge to the law by the conservative Thomas More Law Center.

The Thomas More lawsuit has not attracted as much attention as two other legal challenges being pushed by Republican state officials in Virginia and other states. Those suits are being reviewed by federal appellate courts in Atlanta and Virginia.

And few legal experts expect that the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be settled until it is reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, likely next year.

But the ruling Wednesday nonetheless marked a legal victory for the Obama administration and its Democratic allies, who have argued that Congress could require Americans to get health insurance starting in 2014.

The administration asserted that this was a form of regulating commerce because a person’s decision not to obtain health insurance imposes a cost on others who inevitably end up subsidizing medical care for the uninsured.

The three-judge panel in Cincinnati included one Democrat appointee and two Republican appointees.

The author of the opinion, Judge Boyce Martin, was chosen by President Carter and has a liberal reputation. 

He was joined by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, an appointee of President George W. Bush. Sutton is a former law clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and has a conservative reputation.

The third member of the panel was U.S. District Judge James Graham, a Reagan appointee.

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