A provision of President Obama's health care law which requires citizens to purchase health insurance was ruled as unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in Atlanta, but the court did not strike down the rest of the law.
The ruling is a major setback for the White House, because a lower court judge had struck down the entire law in January. But the law was upheld by another appeals court in Cincinnati, and it is very clear that the Supreme Court will have the final say. Stephanie Cutter, a White House spokeswoman said in a statement that they strongly disagreed with this decision and that they are confident it will not stand.
26 states that filed a lawsuit to block Obama's signature domestic initiative was sided by a divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel said that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring Americans to buy insurance or face penalties. The panel in the majority opinion said that this economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority.
The majority also said that a basic objective of the law is to "make health insurance coverage accessible and thereby to reduce the number of uninsured persons." Without the individual mandate, the majority said, the law "retains many other provisions that help to accomplish some of the same objectives as the individual mandate."
The decision is a review of a ruling by a Florida judge. The Florida judge had given a sweeping ruling and struck down a requirement that all Americans should carry health insurance. He also threw out other provisions ranging from Medicare discounts for some seniors to a change that allows adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' coverage.
The states urged the 11th Circuit to uphold U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson's ruling. They said in a court filing that letting the law stand would set a troubling precedent that would imperil individual liberty, render Congress's other enumerated powers superfluous, and allow Congress to usurp the general police power reserved to the states. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the only private group to join the 26 states in the lawsuit, cheered the decision.
The Justice Department countered that Congress had the power to require most people to buy health insurance or face tax penalties because Congress has the authority to regulate interstate business. It said the legislative branch was exercising its "quintessential" rights when it adopted the new law.