It looks like the Sixth Circuit may become the first federal Circuit Court to review a constitutional challenge to the new health care law.
Last Thursday, Judge George Steeh of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan upheld the constitutionality of the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance, which is a central pillar of the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. See Thomas More Law Center, et al. v. Obama (E.D. Mich., Case No. 10-CV-11156) (PDF). Judge Steeh ruled that the federal government did not exceed its authority under the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) by imposing the individual mandate.
(For a detailed discussion of the Supreme Court’s modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence, see my article in the Case Western Reserve School of Law, 47 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 553, cited by the Fourth Circuit in Hoffman v. Hunt, 126 F.3d 575, 583 (4th Cir. 1997)).
As reported by The Washington Post, the challenge to the new health care statute was brought by the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm in Michigan, along with four other individuals who "objected to being compelled to choose between buying health coverage that they do not want or paying a tax penalty that, they argued, would go into the nation’s general fund and could end up paying for abortions."
The National Journal highlights how Judge Steeh’s decision is the first ruling on the merits addressing the constitutionality of the insurance coverage mandate under the new health care statute. Other legal challenges to the constitutionality of the insurance mandate remain pending in Virginia and Florida. Some legal commentators believe that opponents of the new health care law have a better chance of prevailing in these two other major suits than in the Sixth Circuit, but that is yet to be seen.
The Thomas More Law Center plans to appeal Judge Steeh’s decision, thus setting the stage for the Sixth Circuit to be the first Circuit to weigh in on the new health care law. And ultimately, the Supremes may decide to weigh in on this important case as well.
We’ll, of course, be following the Sixth Circuit appeal closely and reporting on developments here.