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Final Showdown: Challenge to Health Care Statute in Sixth Circuit Lands at the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted in News and Analysis, Supreme Court

Earlier this week, Thomas More Law Center and several other plaintiffs filed their petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the High Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s June 29, 2011 divided panel decision upholding the constitutionality of the mandate requiring individuals to purchase health insurance under the recently enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148See Thomas More Law Center, et al. v. Obama, et al. (U.S. Supreme Court, Case No. 11-117).  The plaintiffs elected not to seek en banc review before the Sixth Circuit.

As we have reported extensively (and previously predicted), the Sixth Circuit on June 29, 2011 became the first Circuit Court in the country to rule on the health care statute’s constitutionality when it issued a decision just 28 days after oral argument.  The divided Sixth Circuit panel included Sixth Circuit Judges Boyce F. Martin, Jr. and Jeffrey S. Sutton, and United States District Judge James L. Graham (Southern District of Ohio), sitting by designation.  All three judges issued separate opinions, and only Circuit Judges Martin and Sutton agreed that the individual mandate was a constitutional exercise of Congress’s Commerce Clause power. 

In their cert petition, the plaintiffs argue that U.S. Supreme Court review of the Sixth Circuit’s June 29 decision “is necessary to establish a meaningful limitation on congressional power under the Commerce Clause.”  The plaintiffs argue if the individual mandate falls within the commerce power, then “the federal government will have the absolute and unfettered power to create complex regulatory schemes to fix every perceived problem imaginable and to do so by ordering private citizens to engage in affirmative acts, under penalty of law, such as eating certain foods, taking vitamins, losing weight, joining health clubs, buying a GMC truck, or purchasing an AIG insurance policy, among others.”  The plaintiffs argue that “Congress will be incentivized to create intrusive regulatory schemes as constitutional cover for the naked power grabs, thereby turning the Constitution on its head.”

To enhance their chances of obtaining Supreme Court review (which already are higher than in a typical case), the plaintiffs point out that while Judge Sutton and Judge Graham disagreed on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, they both agreed about the need for the Supreme Court to address the limits of congressional power in the context of this case of national importance.  Indeed, Judge Sutton effectively challenged the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

Now that the Sixth Circuit case has made it to the High Court, the question is whether the justices are ready to address one of the most important constitutional questions facing the country or whether instead the Court will wait for one of the other Circuit Court decisions (since health care challenge appeals remain pending in the Fourth, Eleventh, and D.C. Circuits).  Will the Supreme Court take on Judge Sutton’s challenge and address the limits of congressional power?  Will the Supreme Court influence Presidential politics by rendering a decision before the 2012 elections?  Keep following our blog, and you’ll know the latest.