Oklahoma officials applaud ruling on federal health care law’s individual mandate

A three-judge panel of the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dealt a new blow to the standing of “ObamaCare,” as the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is popularly dubbed. 

The court in Atlanta, in a 2-1 decision, said U.S. lawmakers cannot require residents to “enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.”
The decision strikes down what is called “the individual mandate” in the federal health care legislation. The panel majority said, “This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority.”

Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull ruled, “The individual mandate contained in the Act exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power.”

Four elected officials immediately praised the decision.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has crafted his own challenge to controversial legislation, said in a statement to CapitolBeatOK, “I am pleased the 11th circuit ruled today that the federal government cannot force Americans to buy health insurance. Indeed, the ruling affirms and strengthens Oklahoma’s position.”

The first-term statewide office holder, elected in the historic Republican sweep of 2010, continued, “It has always been our belief the individual mandate was unconstitutional and that Oklahoma and other states have the right to challenge the law.” 
Governor Mary Fallin, who opposed the legislation when it passed through Congress last year, commented “I am pleased that yet another federal court has agreed that the ‘individual mandate’ contained within the president’s health care law is unconstitutional. 

“Oklahomans have made it clear the federal government under no circumstance should be allowed to force citizens to purchase health insurance. As this case moves through the federal court system, I look forward to continued validation that the ‘individual mandate’ is unconstitutional and in contradiction with the free market principles that have made this nation great.”

Fallin earlier this year decided the Sooner State would not accept money provided in the federal law for development of an Oklahoma health insurance exchange.
Oklahoma Commissioner of Insurance John Doak also praised the ruling, saying the two-judge majority “confirmed something those of us who oppose [the law] have long recognized: It is unconstitutional for Congress to order Americans to engage in certain commerce. 

“Oklahomans deserve improved access to quality health care, but their needs are best served by state-shaped, market-based solutions that broaden, rather than restrict, consumer choice.”

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, an Oklahoma City Republican who took Fallin’s place in Washington after last year’s election, said, “This is another giant step in the mounting judicial opinion that the Affordable Care Act far exceeds the historic constitutional boundary of federal jurisdiction. 

“Our nation was based on the simple principle that each individual has responsibility under God to care for their own family and business. The federal government cannot mandate every action of life and commerce. The key issue is not about healthcare; it is about the role of the federal government.

“I have joined other members of the House to demand that implementation of the Affordable Care Act be stopped until the Supreme Court can give our nation the final ruling on this job-killing mandate. Every state and private business is struggling to implement a law that will certainly be overturned next year by the Supreme Court, which will throw our economy into turmoil once again.

“Americans are frustrated with the divisiveness of the health care directives, and I join them in calling for this law to be fully repealed and replaced with real reforms and patient-centered solutions.”

While the circuit decision is consequential – upholding one key element of a Florida district judge’s decision – it will not end the argument, nor does it guarantee rapid consideration of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In slapping down the individual mandate, the court panel left the rest of the federal law in place, even though it lacks a “severability” clause, an issue that could be subject to review. The mandate issue may be considered “en banc” by all members of the circuit court, which could affirm or reverse the panel’s ruling. 

Assuming today’s decision is affirmed before the entire circuit panel, before asking the High Court to grapple with the issue, the Obama administration’s top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, could wait until another federal circuit or two addresses the issue. 

There might also be an inclination to wait until more time passes because Justice Elena Kagan, the newest member of the Supreme Court, helped craft the legislation as President Obama’s Solicitor General. Legal critics of the Affordable Care Act have said that she should recuse herself (not join in deliberations or rulings) on the law because to do so would constitute a conflict of interest. 

However, the justices themselves might decide to take up the issue at the earliest opportunity. Some legal analysts contend the case raises the most significant constitutional issues since the Bush v. Gore case that resolved the Florida presidential election results in favor of George W. Bush, with Florida’s electoral votes then electing the Texas governor as president.