February 22, 2011. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington D.C. today upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Health Care Reform law and dismissed a lawsuit brought by individual plaintiffs who challenged the law’s constitutionality based on an argument that the individual insurance mandate in the law violates religious freedom. Judge Kessler is the third Federal Judge to have upheld the Health Care Law, with two other Federal Judges previously having declared part or all of the law unconstitutional, in the face of several lawsuits that have been brought challenging the law.
The plaintiffs in this case include a 62-year-old self-employed resident of North Carolina, Margaret Peggy Lee Mead, who claims not to have had health insurance for about 18 years. She and two other plaintiffs state that they intend to refuse medical service for the remainder of their lives, saying they believe “God will provide for their physical, spiritual and financial well-being,” as stated in the Court’s opinion.
In her opinion, Judge Kessler held that the Health Care Law will not impose a “substantial burden” on the exercise of religious beliefs. The judge wrote that it is unclear how the law “puts substantial pressure on plaintiffs to modify their behavior and to violate their beliefs, as it permits them to pay a shared responsibility payment in lieu of actually obtaining health insurance.”
The Judge held that the individual mandate provision “serves a compelling public interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” The government, the judge wrote, “has a compelling interest in safeguarding the public health by regulating the health care and insurance markets.”
She found the individual mandate to be a “critical element in Congress’s comprehensive plan to reduce the spiraling health care costs that this country has experienced and is expected to experience in the future.”
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Edward White III of the American Center for Law and Justice, said that the plaintiffs plan to appeal the Judge’s ruling.
In her opinion, Judge Kessler noted that this D.C. law suit is one of many similar suits in federal district courts around the country. She wrote, “The controversy surrounding this legislation is significant, as is the public’s interest in the substantive reforms contained in the Act.” “It is highly likely that a decision by the United States Supreme Court will be required to resolve the constitutional and statutory issues which have been raised.”
Read a copy of Judge Kessler’s entire 64-page Opinion, posted by Legal Times. Also found on Legal Times is a copy of the Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint in this litigation, as well as a copy of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Motion to Dismiss, which Jusge Kessler’s Opinion granted.
With this ruling, Judge Kessler becomes the third of five Federal District Court Judges to have upheld the Health Care Law in lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Of the two other Federal District Judges who have ruled on challenges to the law’s constitutionality, one (in Virginia) held the individual insurance mandate (but not the remainder of the law) unconstitutional, and the other (in Florida) held the law in its entirety unconstitutional based on a finding that the individual insurance mandate violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that the individual insurance mandate is not severable from the remainder of the law.
Read our report on the Previous Federal Court Rulings on the Health Care Law.
So far, the Judicial Rulings on the Health Care Law have divided along partisan lines, with the three Judges upholding the law having been appointed by Democratic Presidents and the two Judges ruling against the law having been appointed by Republican Presidents. Judge Kessler was appointed to the Federal Bench by President Bill Clinton. All of the decisions are being appealed, with the matter poised for ultimate decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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