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WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Tuesday that a key piece of last year’s federal health-care overhaul is constitutional, handing the Obama administration another legal victory ahead of the Supreme Court’s likely consideration of the law.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Congress, acting under its power to regulate interstate commerce, had the authority to require individuals to carry health insurance or pay a penalty.
“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, no matter how local–or seemingly passive–their individual origins,” Judge Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee, wrote for the court.
The 2-to-1 ruling marked the second time a Republican appointee has voted to uphold the law.
Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter appointee, joined Silberman’s ruling.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush, dissented from the court’s decision, but he offered no opinion on the merits of the law. Instead, he said that lawsuits challenging the insurance mandate are premature because the mandate penalties amounted to a type of tax that can be challenged only after it is collected, rather than before.
A U.S. appeals court in Virginia adopted similar reasoning in September when it ruled that such lawsuits can’t proceed until individuals start paying penalties in 2015.
The D.C. Circuit is the third U.S. appeals court to rule for the Obama administration. A fourth, the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, ruled the law’s insurance mandate is unconstitutional.
It is a near certainty that the Supreme Court will resolve the matter, and the justices may indicate within days whether they will consider the health-care law during their current term.
The court is scheduled to discuss several challenges to the health-care overhaul during its private conference on Thursday.
If the justices decide during their Thursday meeting to hear one or more health-care cases, they could make the announcement that day or, more likely, disclose the decision in a written list of orders that is scheduled for release on Nov. 14. However, there is no guaranteed date for the court to reveal its plans.
If the court agrees to consider the health-care law, oral arguments will likely be scheduled for the spring of 2012, with a decision expected by the end of June.
Tuesday’s appeals court ruling is notable because the D.C. Circuit’s decisions traditionally get particularly close attention from the Supreme Court, in part because four of the justices–including Chief Justice John Roberts–previously sat in that circuit.
Silberman, the author of Tuesday’s ruling, is a well-respected conservative judge who has served on the court since 1985. Another Republican judicial appointee, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit, provided a pivotal vote when that court upheld the health-care law in June.
Sutton wrote a concurring opinion upholding the insurance mandate as a reasonable way for Congress to exercise its authority over the insurance and health-care markets.no comments >