Appeals court: Is health-care reform like broccoli?
Attorneys challenging Obama's health-care reform law said that Congress cannot 'force us to buy a private product and say it is for our own good,' whether health insurance or broccoli.
The Obama administration faced a mostly-friendly federal appeals court panel on Tuesday while urging the judges to uphold the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care reform law.Skip to next paragraph
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The three judges, two Obama appointees and a Clinton appointee, engaged in an active and probing examination of a pair of lawsuits charging that Congress overstepped its authority under the Constitution’s commerce clause when it passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The controversial health care law includes the requirement that all Americans purchase a government-approved level of health insurance or pay a fine.
Acting US Solicitor General Neal Katyal defended the health-care mandate as an expense all Americans would incur anyway. “We can’t know when we might be hit by a bus or struck with cancer,” Mr. Katyal told the judges. Everyone in the US at some point will require medical care, Katyal argued.
At a press conference after the hearing, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who argued against the law, said that his argument was ultimately about liberty, not health care. “The federal government argued in court today that it should have unlimited authority in your lives, including the authority to regulate – i.e., dictate – your decisions, not merely your actions.”
Obama's health care law at the Fourth Circuit
Opponents of the law say the mandate exceeds Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce and marks the first time the government has ordered US citizens to purchase a particular product or service.
Supporters of the law say the mandate is an essential feature of a comprehensive program designed to lower health care costs nationwide.
During more than two hours of argument at the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, the lawyers and judges sparred over fundamental points of constitutional law. Comparisons were drawn to earlier Supreme Court precedents endorsing federal power to dictate the home consumption of wheat on a family farm and to outlaw the private use of home-grown medical marijuana.
If the sweep of federal regulatory power extends to those areas, Katyal argued, it also encompasses a comprehensive effort to reform the national health insurance market.
The two cases heard by the appeals court stem from decisions by federal courts in Virginia. In the case filed by Liberty University, a federal judge upheld the law’s constitutionality. In the other suit, filed by Mr. Cuccinelli on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a different federal judge struck it down.