Legal Challenges to ACA Not Quite Finished

If you thought that the legal battle over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA") was put to rest in NFIB v. Sebelius, you may want to pay attention to Liberty University v. Geithner.  

Today, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and then returned the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to consider new challenges to the ACA.

In its lawsuit, among other things, Liberty University contended that the ACA violates its First Amendment religious freedoms through the funding of abortions and other practices that it maintains are at odds with the core beliefs of the school. Liberty University also challenged the so-called "employer mandate" that requires all employers employing 50 or more people to provide health coverage to those employees, or face a penalty.

The Fourth Circuit had previously held that the mandates were "taxes," but dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that the federal Anti-Injunction Act did not permit the federal courts to consider the legality of the tax until it went into effect. Because it dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds, it did not rule on the merits of the religious freedom and employer mandate arguments. Liberty University sought review in the Supreme Court, which was denied.

In NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Anti-Injunction Act did not preclude the federal courts from deciding the constitutionality of a "tax" only after it goes into effect. Liberty University therefore filed a motion for rehearing, and the Supreme Court ordered the Department of Justice to file a response. In a somewhat surprising move, the DOJ did not oppose Liberty University's motion for pre-hearing, paving the way for today's ruling from the Supreme Court.

On remand, the Fourth Circuit will now have to consider Liberty University's arguments on their merits, and its rulings could conceivably make their way back to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act, But Just Barely

Barger & Wolen partner John LeBlanc and summer associate Natalie Ferrall wrote an article published in the Westlaw Journal – Insurance Coverage on Aug. 10, 2012, about the Supreme Court's closely watched ruling on healthcare reform and how the court found its controversial individual mandate to be constitutional.

In their article, LeBlanc and Ferrall note that the court focused on two key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate, requiring most Americans to have insurance coverage; and the Medicaid expansion requirement which, had the court not struck it down, would have required states to meet certain federal requirements to receive funding. The article provided legal context and background on the Affordable Care Act and discussed how the court came to the conclusion that the law was “mostly constitutional.”

“In doing so, the court emphasized that its role was not to address the soundness of federal policy, but rather to interpret the law and enforce limits on federal power,” LeBlanc and Ferrall wrote.

Please click on the link to download the PDF: Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act, But Just Barely.

Supreme Court Rules Affordable Care Act is Constitutional

By John M. LeBlanc and Natalie J. Ferrall

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) is constitutional. The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, upheld the centerpiece of the ACA—the individual mandate—requiring citizens to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS beginning in 2014. The Court construed the penalty as a tax on persons who choose not to purchase health insurance and thus within Congress’ taxing power. The Chief Justice, however, rejected the argument that the individual mandate was constitutional under the Commerce Clause. He stated that the Commerce Clause “authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it.” Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito filed a dissenting opinion in which they also found that the individual mandate could not be upheld under the Commerce Clause.

The Court further addressed the so-called Medicaid expansion provision, which required states to extend Medicaid coverage by 2014 to all individuals under the age of 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty line; if a state fails to do so, the federal government could withdraw all of the state’s existing Medicaid funds. The Court held that it was unconstitutional under the Spending Clause for the federal government to coerce states into accepting changes to Medicaid, describing this financial threat as a “gun to the head”, leaving states with no meaningful choice but to accept the terms of the Medicaid expansion. The Court struck the provision, but left the remaining portions of the ACA intact.

Click here to read the full decision (pdf).