(by Greg Bluestein, WashingtonTimes.com) ATLANTA (AP) – Judges on a federal appeals court panel on Wednesday repeatedly raised questions about President Obama’s health care overhaul, expressing unease with the requirement that virtually all Americans carry health insurance or face penalties [pay a fine].
All three judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel questioned whether upholding the landmark law could open the door to Congress adopting other sweeping economic mandates. The panel [of judges] is made up of two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee.
The Atlanta panel did not immediately rule on the lawsuit brought by 26 states, a coalition of small businesses and private individuals who urged the three to side with a Florida judge who struck down the law. …
…During almost three hours of oral arguments, the judges asked pointed questions about the so-called individual mandate, which the federal government says is needed to expand coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. With other challenges to the law before other federal appeals courts, lawyers expect its fate ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chief Judge Joel Dubina, who was [nominated] by President George H.W. Bush, [asked Solicitor General Neal Katyah], the government’s attorney, “If we uphold the individual mandate in this case, are there any limits on congressional power?” U.S. Circuit Judges Frank M. Hull and Stanley Marcus, who both were appointed by President Bill Clinton, echoed his concerns later in the hearing.
…Solicitor General Katyal sought to ease their concerns by saying the legislative branch can exercise its powers to regulate commerce only if it will have a substantial effect on the economy and solve a national, not local, problem. Health care coverage, he said, is unique because of the billions of dollars shifted in the economy when Americans without coverage seek medical care. …
Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor representing the  states [contesting the healt care law], countered that the federal government should not have the power to “compel [force] you [to buy] coverage.” He said lawmakers have clearly abused a power that for “220 years Congress never saw fit to use.”
Judge Hull also seemed skeptical of the government’s claim that the mandate was crucial to covering the 50 million or so uninsured Americans. She said the rolls of the uninsured could be pared significantly with other parts of the package, including expanded Medicare discounts for some seniors and a change that makes it easier for those with pre-existing medical conditions to get coverage. Judge Dubina nodded as she spoke.
Judge Hull and Judge Dubina also asked the lawyers to [explain] what could happen to [Obamacare] if the individual mandate were struck down but the rest of the package was upheld.
Much of the remaining portions of the law should still be allowed to stand, Mr. Katyal said, but he warned the judges they would make a “deep, deep mistake” if the insurance requirement were found to be unconstitutional.
Mr. Clement, however, argued that the insurance requirement is the “driving force” of the broader [law].
“If you take out the hub, the spokes will fall,” he said.
Judge Marcus, meanwhile, said the case struck him as an argument over individual liberties, but he questioned whether the judicial branch should “stop at the water’s edge” or intervene.
The 11th Circuit is not the first appeals court to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the federal health care overhaul, as panels in Cincinnati and Richmond both have heard similar legal challenges to the law within the last month. But legal observers say the Atlanta panel’s decision could be the most pivotal because the ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of Florida is considered the broadest assault yet on the law.
While a Republican-appointed federal judge in Virginia struck down the requirement [mandate] that nearly all Americans carry health insurance, Judge Vinson invalidated the entire law…. Three federal judges, all Democratic appointees, have upheld the law.
The arguments unfolded in what’s considered one of the nation’s most conservative appeals courts. But the randomly selected panel represents different judicial perspectives. None of the three is considered either a stalwart conservative or an unfailing liberal.
Judge Dubina, who first was tapped to the bench as a federal magistrate in 1983, is not considered to be as reflexively conservative as some of his colleagues. But he’s under particular scrutiny because of his daughter’s outspoken opposition to the health care overhaul. [His daughter], U.S. Rep. Martha Dubina Roby, a Montgomery, Ala., Republican elected in November, voted to repeal the health care bill because she said it was “less about providing health care for all citizens and more about expanding federal government.”
The other two judges aren’t easy to pin down either. Judge Marcus first was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Florida bench after several years as Miami’s lead federal prosecutor; he later was elevated by Mr. Clinton. And Judge Hull, a former county judge in Atlanta, is known for subjecting both sides of the counsel table to challenging questions. …..
When the panel does issue a decision – and it could be months – there’s a chance the full 11-judge court could decide to review the ruling. But everyone in the courtroom – the judges included – knew the debate would eventually land in the Supreme Court. …..
Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC. Associated Press. Reprinted from the Washington Times for educational purposes only. Visit the website at washingtontimes.com.
NOTE: Usually, when passing a complex law, Congress includes a provision known as a severability clause which says that if one part of the law is struck down, the rest can stand. The House included such a provision in its healthcare bill, but it was not included in the Senate version. And in the last-minute scramble, the House adopted the Senate’s version.
1. What aspect of Obamacare did the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges question during the lawsuit brought by 26 states?
2. What is the ‘individual mandate’ being contested by 26 states?
3. What is expected to happen regardless of the judges’ decision?
4. Do you think the federal government should have the power to require/force a citizen to buy health insurance? Explain your answer.
The Health Care Law [titled the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as ObamaCare] being challenged in court does the following, among other things:
- expands coverage for low-income Americans
- requires companies to offer employees health insurance or pay a penalty
- offers subsidies to low- and middle-income Americans who still lack coverage
- includes the individual mandate that everyone have insurance by 2014 (requires every American who does not have it/want it to purchase health care)
- requires insurance companies to drop lifetime benefit caps and restrictions on pre-existing conditions
Acknowledging they are breaking new ground in considering this case, the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sitting in Atlanta questioned whether there is any precedent in more than two centuries in which the Supreme Court has upheld a law that forces individuals to buy a private good or service – in this instance, the individual mandate [requirement] that every American obtain health insurance.
THE U.S. FEDERAL COURT SYSTEM:
The United States district courts are the trial courts of the federal court system. Within limits set by Congress and the Constitution, the district courts have jurisdiction to hear nearly all categories of federal cases, including both civil and criminal matters. There are 94 federal judicial districts, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The 94 judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. (from uscourts.gov)
Go to usgovinfo.about.com for a map of the appeals courts and district courts.
- Read a Physician’s Prescription for Health Care Reform at docs4patientcare.org/prescription
- Read “A Medical Doctor Explains the Pros and Cons of ObamaCare” at capitalismmagazine.com/science/medicine/6089-Medical-Doctor-Explains-the-Pros-and-Cons-ObamaCare.html.
- (An Interview with Dr. Paul Hsieh co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine – Visit the website at WeStandFirm.org.
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