ANOTHER FEDERAL COURT VICTORY FOR THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT…. Over the last year, there have been all kinds of court rulings related to the health care reform law, but most deal with procedural issues. They all matter, but the ones that deserve the most attention are the ones that deal with the substance of the Affordable Care Act and the legal merit of the challenges.
Going into yesterday, four federal district courts had ruled on the legality of the law, with each side winning twice. Yesterday, Judge Gladys Kessler tipped the scales and made the right call.
Judge Kessler adopted the government’s position on whether Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce is so broad that it can require people to buy a commercial product. Past Supreme Court decisions have established the standard that Congress can control “activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.”
The judge suggested in her 64-page opinion that not buying insurance was an active choice that had clear effects on the marketplace by burdening other payers with the cost of uncompensated medical care.
“Because of this cost-shifting effect,” she wrote, “the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage.”
Judge Kessler added: “It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not ‘acting,’ especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something.”
The judge also tossed out a claim that the law restricted the plaintiffs’ exercise of religious freedom because the mandate to buy health insurance conflicted with their belief that God would provide for their well-being. She wrote that such a burden, if it existed at all, was too minor to require invalidation of the law.
Perhaps most notably, Kessler’s ruling added that those who buy the argument embraced by the two judges who ruled against the law are choosing to “ignore reality.” As Jonathan Cohn explained, she also has no use for the so-called “broccoli argument.”
The ruling is the result of a case brought by the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing legal group created by radical TV preacher Pat Robertson. It also keeps the partisan nature of the legal dispute alive — three judges appointed by Democratic presidents have sided in support of the law, two judges appointed by Republican presidents did the opposite.
As a practical matter, all of these rulings are of limited value, since the issue will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, but given all the breathless media attention the conservative court rulings received, it’s worth noting that there are now three federal court rulings that make it obviously clear that the health care reform law is clearly constitutional.