An appeals court struck a blow to a controversial part of President Obama's health care law requiring individuals to either buy health insurance or pay a penalty, ruling Friday that the mandate was unconstitutional but allowing the rest of the law to stand.
The Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, concluded in a 2-1 decision that Congress had exceeded its authority, handing a partial victory to the parties that had challenged both the individual mandate and the law at large.
The rest of the law could remain in effect, the judges said, but called the mandate an "unprecedented exercise of federal power."
"What Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals 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," wrote Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull. Mr. Dubina was appointed by George H. W. Bush, while Ms. Hull was appointed by Bill Clinton.
The case was filed by 26 states, led by Florida, and the National Federation of Independent Business. NFIB Director Karen Harned called the decision a "true victory" even if it wasn't a full victory.
"We were hopeful that the court would take the extra step and find not only that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but that it cannot be severed from the law," she said. "Still, today's ruling is a true victory for all Americans."
Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the mandate, which has so far been thrown out by three federal courts but upheld in four.
The Friday ruling came as unwelcome news for the Obama administration, which expressed strong disagreement with the judges' decision.
"Those who claim this provision exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce are incorrect," wrote Deputy Senior Advisor Stephanie Cutter. "Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are making an economic decision that affects all of us — when people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, those with insurance and taxpayers are often left to pick up the tab."
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