The Obama administration has chalked up a win in the first appellate court decision on the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the portion of the 2010 health reform law that requires Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty is constitutional.
The decision came in response to an appeal by the conservative Thomas More Law Center in Michigan. A judge in the federal district court in Detroit ruled last October that the "mandate" portion of the law was, in fact, constitutional, but Thomas More appealed to the 6th Circuit.
There are still two decisions pending from other appeals courts regarding portions of the health care law: the 4th Circuit in Richmond and the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. It's expected that at least one of the suits will end up in front of the Supreme Court. The New York Times explains:
Lawyers on both sides of the case widely expect the Supreme Court to take one or more of the cases, perhaps as soon as its coming term, which starts in October. The speed of the Sixth Circuit ruling could help ensure that timing.
The Sixth Circuit opinion was the first on the merits that has not broken down strictly along seemingly partisan lines. Two of the judges on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents and one was appointed by a Democrat. At the lower District Court level, five judges have divided on the question, with three Democratic appointees ruling in favor of the law and two Republican appointees rejecting it.
The law might not fare as well in the other appeals courts, both of which are expected to rule soon. But the Department of Justice issued a statement cheering the news. "Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed," said Tracy Schmaler, deputy director of the DOJ's Office of Public Affairs. "We believe these challenges to health reform will also fail."