August 15, 2011

Federal Appellate Courts Now Split over PPACA’s Individual Mandate

Late Friday afternoon the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that PPACA’s “individual mandate” – requiring virtually every American to purchase health insurance by 2014 – is unconstitutional.  In a 2-1 opinion exceeding 300-pages in length, the majority reasoned that upholding the controversial mandate would grant Congress powers beyond those intended by the Constitution.

The Eleventh Circuit specifically stated: “Congress may regulate commercial actors.  It may forbid certain commercial activity.  It may enact hundreds of new laws and federally-funded programs, as it has elected to do in this massive 975-page Act.  But what Congress cannot do . . . is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”

The ruling is noteworthy for several reasons.  From a legal standpoint, this is the second time a federal appellate court has had the opportunity to rule on the constitutionality of PPACA’s individual mandate provision.  On June 29, 2011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, contrary to the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling on Friday, upheld the constitutionality of the provision.  The Sixth Circuit’s decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court.  With two federal appellate courts now split on the individual mandate, experts believe the issue becomes an even stronger candidate for the Supreme Court to decide in its upcoming term this fall.

The Eleventh Circuit’s decision is also significant politically.  With the constitutionality of the individual mandate being challenged in federal courts across the country, Friday’s ruling takes on greater importance.  The Eleventh Circuit’s 2-1 decision against the individual mandate represents the first time a judge appointed by a Democratic president has ruled against PPACA’s individual mandate.  Eleventh Circuit Judge Frank Hull, the author of Friday’s opinion, was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1997.  Up until Friday, the only judicial decisions finding this provision of PPACA unconstitutional had been written by judges appointed by Republican Presidents.  Given the upcoming 2012 Presidential election and the stakes involved, the political lines of those involved in the process and the timing of future legal decisions will continue to be closely scrutinized.

This post was contributed by Aaron Mensh.