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Appeals Court: Individual Mandate in Obamacare Unconstitutional

August 11, 2011 - 6:00pm

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta declared Friday that part of the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 is unconstitutional.

The decision differs slightly from an earlier decision made by a Pensacola federal judge, who said that because the "individual mandate" -- which requires individuals to obtain health care insurance or face penalties or fines -- was so intrinsic to the rest of the law, the entire law should be deemed unconstitutional. Friday's decision simply declared the individual mandate unconstitutional, but left the rest of the law intact.

Florida was the first state to file the lawsuit, and was quickly joined by 25 other states, as well as the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a small-business advocacy group.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who inherited the lawsuit when she took over the job this year from Bill McCollum, was quick to praise the decision.

(Friday) we have prevailed in preventing Congress from infringing on the individual liberty protected by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling by the (11th) Circuit Court of Appeals upholds our position that the federal health care law exceeds Congresss power, Bondi said.

In defending the law and the individual mandate, the Obama administration has said that the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which permits federal regulation of interstate commerce, allows the federal government to impose fines on those who dont buy health insurance, since that decision impacts the market by driving up prices.

Some lower courts have agreed, but others have deemed the individual mandate a form of overreach by Congress. Two of the three judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called the mandate unprecedented.

The federal governments assertion of power, under the Commerce Clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure, the decision states in part.

U.S. Judge Roger Vinson issued a decision earlier this year stating essentially the same thing, but his opinion that the rest of the law and its cost reductions measures were tied to the individual mandate and must be voided as well was not shared by the appeals court.

Surprising many observers, one of the prevailing votes on the panel was Judge Frank Hull, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

I think it (the decision) showed this is not a partisan political fight, it is a serious constitutional matter that both sides take seriously, said Mike Cargin, the attorney who tried the case.

Despite the favorable ruling, Cargin said he will push to have the entire law struck when it is heard by the Supreme Court, something he thinks will happen by mid-2012.

If they proceed in the normal way and argue it before the court, they should have it done before the end of June, Cargin said.

NFIB officials were disappointed the entirety of the law wasn't struck down, but were nonetheless pleased with the decision. A similar decision from the Supreme Court would satisfy most small-business owners, said Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel for NFIB.

The case can now head to the Supreme Court, although other similar lawsuits from Michigan and Virginia are also making their way through the courts. If or when the Supreme Court does take up the case, it wont likely be until 2012, during the heart of the presidential race.

Among the first to react was RPOF Chairman David Bitner: With today's ruling that the individual mandate of Obamacare is unconstitutional, the federal appeals court is moving us closer to the end of this unprecedented government takeover of our nation's healthcare system. This scheme by President Obama is just one of the reasons Americans will elect a Republican President in 2012.

Said Gov. Rick Scott, The ruling today by the Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit against ObamaCare's individual mandates is a huge victory for Americans. If implemented, ObamaCare will result in the rationing of healthcare, significant tax increases, significant job losses and the inability of many Americans to keep their existing health insurance. It is critical that this case be expedited to the United States Supreme Court so that we can put this job-killing federal government mandate behind us and begin making the meaningful improvements our healthcare system needs without infringing on the liberties of Americans.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

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