Reform opponents go 0-for-2 in federal courts

REFORM OPPONENTS GO 0-FOR-2 IN FEDERAL COURTS…. Conservative opponents of the health care law, still hoping to gut the Affordable Care Act, still hope to see progress in Congress, but their best bet in turning back the clock is likely to come from the courts. There are currently over a dozen legal challenges to various provisions of the ACA, most notably the individual mandate.

In October, a federal judge in Michigan found the law constitutional, ruling that the mandate is legal through the Commerce Clause. Yesterday, a federal judge in Virginia came to the same conclusion.

For the second time in two months, a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of the new health care law, ruling on Tuesday that the requirement that most Americans obtain medical coverage falls within Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.

The judge, Norman K. Moon of Federal District Court, who sits in Lynchburg, Va., issued a 54-page ruling that granted the government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Liberty University, the private Christian college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Last month, in a separate case, Judge George C. Steeh of Federal District Court in Detroit also upheld the law.

Moon explained in his ruling, “[T]he individual coverage provision is “essential” to this larger regulatory scheme because, without it, individuals would postpone health insurance until they need substantial care, at which point the Act would obligate insurers to cover them at the same cost as everyone else. This would increase the cost of health insurance and decrease the number of insured individuals — precisely the harms that Congress sought to address with the Act’s regulatory measures.”

The rationale used in yesterday’s outcome is practically identical to the one used in a nearly identical ruling seven weeks ago.

Judge Moon rejected the argument by plaintiffs around the country that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not empower Congress to require Americans to buy a commercial product like health insurance. To do so, they argue, would amount to the regulation of inactivity.

In disagreeing, Judge Moon embraced arguments made by the Justice Department. “Far from ‘inactivity,’ ” he wrote, “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.”

This is certainly a welcome victory for the Obama administration and supporters of health care reform, but there are two additional rulings that are on the way — one in Florida, one in Virginia — and which seem likely to go in the other direction. While yesterday’s ruling and the one in Michigan in October were decided by judges appointed by Democratic presidents, conservative plaintiffs carefully chose their venues, and have Republican-appointed judges hearing their cases.