Sunday, June 29, 2014

Plaintiff Lacks Standing In Establishment Clause Challenge To ACA Individual Mandate

In Cutler v. United States, (D DC, June 25, 2014), the District of Columbia federal district court dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.  Plaintiff based his challenge primarily on a claim that the narrow religious exemption in 26 USC Sec. 5000A(d)(2) violates the Establishment Clause by allowing the government to "regulate and track a person’s religion, and . . . to favor one religion over another." The court concluded that plaintiff lacks standing to raise this claim:
Plaintiff is non-observant in his religion and does not assert that a religious exemption should be extended to him.... Plaintiff’s argument is as follows: there is an exemption to the individual mandate for certain religious groups, he is not a member of any of those groups, and, therefore, he is not able to claim that exemption. It follows that Plaintiff’s challenge to the religious exemption solely is based on the general existence of the exemption and not on the exemption’s specific application to him...
... Further, even if the Court were to find that religious exemption violated the exercise of Congress’ Commerce Power in violation of the First Amendment, Plaintiff would be in the same position. He would be subject to the individual mandate and would be required to either obtain health insurance coverage or pay the penalty. The only difference would be that no one else could claim a religious exemption.
The court went on to conclude that even if plaintiff had standing, the religious exemption provisions do not violate the Establishment Clause.