A federal judge in Michigan has ruled that the individual mandate, a key element in the Affordable Care Act, is constitutional. This is the first federal court ruling on the new law.
The decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought by a Christian legal group, the Thomas More Law Center, and four individuals who objected to a provision in the law that imposes a penalty on those who fail to buy or otherwise obtain health insurance. The judge rejected their arguments that Congress has no authority to regulate those who opt out of the medical insurance market.
"The health care market is unlike other markets. No one can guarantee his or her health or ensure that he or she will never participate in the health care market. Indeed, the opposite is nearly always true," wrote Steeh, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton. "Far from ‘inactivity,’ 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."
The administration argued that the government has the authority to enforce the mandate in both the Commerce Clause and on Congress's power to tax, both key elements of the GOP's arguments against the bill and for repeal. In responding to the decision, the DOJ said
"This ruling marks the first time a court has considered the merits of any challenge to this law, and we welcome the court's decision upholding the health care reform statute as constitutional," a Justice Department spokesperson said. "The court found that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable means for Congress to take in reforming our health care system. The department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation."
There are still suits pending, including one in Virginia in which a federal judge refused to dismiss a case brought by the state, and another pending in Florida, brought by 20 states and a small business group. In addition, the Thomas More Center intends to appeal this ruling.