Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DC District Court Upholds Health Care Reform-- No Commerce Clause or Free Exercise Problems

Another federal district court has weighed in on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-- the 2010 law reforming the U.S. health care insurance system.  In Mead v. Holder, (D DC, Feb. 22, 2011), the district court for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge brought by individuals who object to the mandate to purchase health insurance imposed by the new law-- including objecting on religious grounds.  The court concluded that the law is a proper exercise of Congress' commerce clause powers.  However it refused to also uphold it under Congress' taxing and spending authority. Finally the court rejected plaintiffs' arguments that the new law violates their free exercise rights as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Plaintiffs argued that the requirement they purchase health insurance conflicts with their Christian faith by insisting they perform an act that implies they doubt God's ability to provide for their health.  The court said:
[T]he conflict alleged between § 1501's requirements and Plaintiffs' Christian faith does not rise to the level of a substantial burden....  [I]t is unclear how § 1501 puts substantial pressure on Plaintiffs to modify their behavior and to violate their beliefs, as it permits them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually obtaining health insurance.... Even if § 1501 does substantially burden the exercise of Plaintiffs' Christian faith, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for relief under RFRA because the individual mandate provision serves a compelling public interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
AP and Blog of the Legal Times both report on the decision. The American Center for Law and Justice which filed the suit says it plans to appeal. (See prior related posting.)