A federal appeals court panel says the Commerce Clause in the Constitution gives Congress the authority to compel large employers to offer health coverage.
The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected a challenge to the individual and employer mandates in President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"We hold that the employer mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause," the panel's ruling said.
Liberty University and the other parties also challenged federal PPACA regulations that require most employers to offer coverage for birth control in their preventive services package.
The court declined to rule on the law's contraception mandate, saying it's too early to take up that topic.
The legal challenge was filed by Liberty University, which argued that the PPACA employer and individual coverage mandates impose a substantial financial hardship on employers, force employers and individuals to buy products they don't want, and expose employers and individuals to the risk that they might indirectly end up paying for abortions or other procedures that violate their religious beliefs.
Opponents said that Congress has gone beyond what Article I of the Constitution allows the body do and has violated "the Tenth Amendment, the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Fifth Amendment, the right to free speech and free association under the First Amendment, the Article I, Section 9 prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes, and the Guarantee Clause," the 4th Circuit panel said.
The judges on the panel — including Andre Davis and James Wynn, who are Obama appointees, and Diana Motz, a Clinton appointee — said they all helped write the opinion on the case, Liberty University Inc. et al. vs. Jacob Lew, secretary of the Treasury, et al. (Case Number 10-2347).
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled about a year ago in connection with another PPACA case, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) vs. Sebelius, that Congress has no authority under the Commerce Clause to make individuals buy health insurance but does have the authority to impose a tax in an effort to influence individual consumers' behavior.
Liberty Counsel, a group that has helped Liberty University and other PPACA opponents fight the PPACA mandates, said they were happy to see the 4th Circuit panel agree that Liberty University had standing to bring the case and that the case was timely.
The group said it believes the 4th Circuit's reliance on the Commerce Clause to defend the PPACA employer mandate conflicts with the Supreme Court's ruling in the NFIB case.
Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement that the Supreme Court refused in the NFIB case to let Congress use the Commerce Cause to justify forcing individuals to buy an unwanted product.
The 4th Circuit panel "has now decided that Congress can force employers to buy an unwanted product," Staver said. "As Congress cannot force individuals to buy an unwanted product, neither can it force employers to do so. I look forward to having this matter before the Supreme Court."
Representatives for the Justice Department were not immediately available to comment on the case.
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