A federal judge in Michigan ruled Thursday that the new health law is constitutional.
His decision rejected the "argument that Congress lacked the power to create the legislation's 'individual mandate,' which requires virtually all Americans to purchase health insurance," The Washington Post reports. "Other federal courts have already dismissed some challenges to the law on technical grounds — ruling, for instance, that the plaintiffs lacked standing. However, the decision issued Thursday by Judge George Caram Steeh of the Eastern District of Michigan is the first to reject a claim based on the merits, marking a notable victory for the Obama administration."
The case was brought by "three people and the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm in Ann Arbor" who "had objected to being compelled to choose between buying health coverage that they do not want or paying a tax penalty that, they argued, would go into the nation's general fund and could end up paying for abortions. They further argued that because the decision not to buy insurance is a form of inactivity rather than an economic activity, it is not covered by the clause of the Constitution that grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce." Steeh, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, however, determined that "'by choosing to forgo insurance, plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health-care services later, out of pocket, rather than now through the purchase of insurance, collectively shifting billions of dollars ... onto other market participants.' Therefore, Steeh ruled, regulating this decision falls well within the scope of Congress's authority to regulate the health insurance market" (Aizenman, 10/7).
CongressDaily: "'This ruling marks the first time a court has considered the merits of any challenge to this law and we welcome the court's decision upholding the health care reform statute as constitutional,' said Justice Department official Tracy Schmaler. 'The court found that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable means for Congress to take in reforming our health care system. The department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation'" (McCarthy, 10/7).
Politico: "A lawyer for the Thomas More Center, Rob Muise, said Steeh's decision will be appealed. If an appeal goes forward immediately, it's possible the Michigan case will be the first health reform challenge to reach an appellate court, in this instance the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit … Muise said Steeh's decision is wrong, in part, because it would open almost any decision of private individuals to federal control" (Gerstein, 10/7).
The New York Times: "Two other cases with higher profiles, one in Florida and one in Virginia, are headed toward hearings on the issues that were decided in Michigan." The question may "ultimately fall to the Supreme Court." Meanwhile, the "judge in the Florida lawsuit, which was filed by elected officials in 20 states, is expected to allow a hearing on the merits that has been scheduled for Dec. 16. The Virginia case, filed by the state attorney general, is scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 18" (Sack, 10/7).
Detroit Free Press: "Marjorie Mitchell, executive director of the Michigan Universal Health Care Network, the state's most active proponent of federal health care reforms, said Steeh's ruling 'gives me some hope ... all the cases are thrown out. We need this health care reform.' The law was passed to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured people — including 1.3 million in Michigan — and to make it more affordable and easier to understand" (Ashenfelter and Anstett, 10/8).