United States Department of Justice Files First Brief in Health Care Reform Battle

Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida (U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-398)

On January 6, 2012, the U.S.D.O.J. filed its first brief in the matter of Department of Health and Human Services v. State of Florida, et al. In that matter, a number of states are seeking a declaration from the United States Supreme Court that Congress overstepped its constitutional powers by enacting the Health Care Reform bill, which requires that private individuals purchase health coverage or pay a penalty.  In the 130 page brief, the DOJ asserts that Congress’ power under the commerce clause allows it to pass the individual mandate because it constitutes a regulation of interstate commerce and also constitutes a constitutional tax.

The DOJ claims that interstate commerce is impacted by health insurance because health insurance is a major part of the U.S. economy, and the uninsured participate in health care by getting health care without insurance.  The costs for health care get passed on to the American people (through interstate commerce) for people who are uninsured and do not pay for their treatment.

“Congress has a wide latitude when deciding how best to achieve its constitutional objectives,” and requiring minimum coverage is “eminently reasonable.”

The Sixth Circuit upheld the mandate’s constitutionality in June, while the Eleventh Circuit struck it down.  The Fourth Circuit declined to rule on the issue, finding the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue.  The high court granted three petitions for certiorari on cases regarding the law, one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, a second filed by 26 states challenging the law, and a third filed by small business trade group the National Federation of Independent Business.

Two amicus brief were also filed:  one on behalf of 100 economists arguing the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the law (as the Eleventh Circuit found), and another by the American Center for Law, which was joined by 117 members of Congress, also contesting severability.

A copy of the brief can be found here

Sarah Delaney and Tom Segalla

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