Tuesday, November 08, 2011

D.C. Circuit Upholds Health Care Reform, Giving Short Shrift To Religious Freedom Argument

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, last year's federal health care reform law.  In Seven-Sky v. Holder, (DC Cir., Nov. 8, 2011), the majority opinion, the concurrence and the dissent focused virtually all of their attention on (1) whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars a pre-enforcement challenge to the individual mandate; and (2) whether Congress had authority under the commerce clause to impose the mandate.  The majority opinion, written by Judge Silberman, found that the Anti-Injunction Act is not a bar to the lawsuit and that Congress acted within its commerce clause powers. Judge Edwards filed a short concurring opinion. Judge Kavanaugh dissented concluding that the Anti-Injunction Act creates a jurisdictional bar to the court deciding the case at this time.

In the case, plaintiffs also invoked the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, arguing 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 district court (see prior posting) spent 5 pages rejecting that argument. In today's opinion, Judge Silberman disposed of the RFRA argument in a footnote (fn. 4):
We affirm the dismissal of appellants’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim, because we agree with the district court’s reasoning that appellants failed to allege facts showing that the mandate will substantially burden their religious exercise.
The White House blog noted the decision.