A conservative-leaning panel of federal appellate judges on Tuesday upheld President Barack Obama’s health care law as constitutional, helping set up a Supreme Court fight.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a split opinion upholding the law. The court agreed to dismiss a Christian legal group’s lawsuit claiming the requirement that all Americans get health insurance is unconstitutional and violates religious freedom.
The requirement has been the subject of several lawsuits, with some judges across the country ruling it unconstitutional and others upholding the law. That means the Supreme Court is sure to decide the fate of Obama’s signature law. The high court is expected to decide soon, perhaps within days, whether to accept appeals from some of those earlier rulings.
The suit in Washington was brought by the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. It claimed that the insurance mandate violates the religious freedom of those who choose not to have insurance because they rely on God to protect them from harm. But the court ruled that although the requirement is an encroachment on individual liberty, Congress had the power to pass it to ensure that all Americans can have health care coverage.
“The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems,” Judge Laurence Silberman, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, wrote in the 2-1 opinion. Silberman was joined by Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a former top aide to President George W. Bush who appointed him to the bench, disagreed with the conclusion without taking a position on the merits of the law. He wrote a lengthy opinion arguing the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to review the health care mandate until after it takes effect in 2014.