By Peter J. Smith
DETROIT, Michigan, October 7, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal judge in Detroit has delivered a setback to opponents of the national health care reform law passed in March, ruling that the individual insurance mandate and other aspects are constitutional.
U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled Thursday that Congress has the authority to mandate that individuals carry health insurance by 2014 in the Affordable Care Act.
Steeh said the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution allows Congress to not only regulate economic activity, but also the decisions of individuals that impact a “broader regulatory scheme.”
Robert Muise, senior lead counsel for the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which filed the suit on behalf of four individuals in March, said the ruling was “troubling.”
He told LifeSiteNews.com Thursday that Steeh “essentially ruled that the commerce clause authority is not limited to just economic activity, but that Congress can also regulate decisions related to economic activity.”
However, the judge cited two U.S. Supreme Court cases which broadly expanded the power of Congress to regulate economic activity as key precedent for the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Steeh invoked the New Deal era case of Wickard v. Filburn (1942), which substantially broadened the authority of Congress to regulate under the Commerce Clause. The high court agreed with the federal government that Roscoe Filburn’s decision to grow excess wheat for himself would affect interstate commerce, because the farmer would not be forced to buy extra wheat under a New Deal regulatory scheme designed to increase wheat prices during the Great Depression.
He also referred to Gonzales v. Raich (2005) in which the high court upheld Congress’s efforts to fight marijuana consumption on the basis that the “Commerce Clause affords Congress broad power to regulate even purely local matters that have substantial economic effects.”
But Muise disagreed with Steeh’s conclusions, saying that under his reading of the commerce clause “there is virtually no limit to what Congress can regulate.”
“Our founding fathers created a federal government with limited enumerated powers. If the commerce clause can be read so broadly, then that whole fundamental concept of our constitutional republic no longer exists,” said Muise.
The case was the first lawsuit filed against the national health care law, President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, in the United States.
Steeh, however, did recognize that the plaintiffs had legal standing to challenge the Affordable Care Act – a critical victory for the Thomas More Law Center, which allows them to appeal the case on its merits.
He said the plaintiff’s claim of present and future economic injury was “entirely reasonable” as they would have to start saving today in order to buy more than $8,000 in insurance per year, starting in 2014.
Additionally, Steeh denied the U.S. Justice Department’s claim that the Anti-Injunction Act prevented the plaintiffs from requesting an injunction on the law since the facts of the case “have nothing to do with the assessment or collection of taxes.”
“The case is set up nicely for an appeal, which we intend to do,” said Muise.
Thomas More Law Center plans to appeal Steeh’s decision to the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Twenty other state attorneys general have filed a separate lawsuit which is pending in Florida.
The Attorney General of Virginia has also filed a challenge to the health care law, which is pending in a federal court in Richmond.
Legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act are expected to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Steeh’s decision (Case No. 10-CV-11156) can be read here.