Another federal judge has weighed in on the protracted battle over the constitutionality of the landmark healthcare reform act, moving the score to 3-2 in favor of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge to the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative legal group started by right-wing icon and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
The plaintiffs argued that Obamacare “regulates inactivity” via the individual mandate by compelling Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty with their annual tax returns. Kessler scoffed at that argument, calling it “pure semantics.”
“This court finds the distinction, which plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not ‘acting,’ especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice,” she wrote, according to court document. “Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.”
That aside, the judge added, people who opt not to but insurance are freeloaders who would unfairly deflect responsibility for their care onto the rest of society.
“To put it less analytically, and less charitably, those who choose — and plaintiffs have made such a deliberate choice — not to purchase health insurance will benefit greatly when they become ill, as they surely will, from the free health care which must be provided by emergency rooms and hospitals to the sick and dying who show up on their doorstep,” Kessler wrote. “In short, those who choose not to purchase health insurance will ultimately get a ‘free ride’ on the backs of those Americans who have made responsible choices to provide for the illness we all must face at some point in our lives.”
The five plaintiffs &mdash Margaret Peggy Lee Mead, Charles Edward Lee, Susan Seven-Sky, Kenneth Ruffo and Gina Rodriguez — also argued that Obamacare would infringe their religious rights because “it requires them to perform an act that implies that they doubt God’s ability to provide for their health,” according to court documents. Kessler was not persuaded.
“First,” she wrote, “plaintiffs have failed to allege any facts demonstrating that this conflict is more than a de minimus burden on their Christian faith. Second, it is unclear how [the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act] 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. In fact, plaintiffs specifically allege … that they view this shared responsibility payment as ‘the lesser of two evils’ and therefore intend to pay it rather than purchase health insurance.”
The ruling by Kessler, named to the bench by former President Bill Clinton, marks the fifth time a federal court has weighed in on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law — and the fifth time a decision has come down along strictly partisan lines.
In October, a Michigan judge and Democrat appointee dismissed a legal challenge to the law. That was followed by another favorable ruling in the U.S. District Court for Western Virgina by another judge appointed by Clinton and a ruling by Judge Henry Hudson of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia (a Republican appointee) that the individual mandate, which would require most Americans to buy health insurance, was unconstitutional because it exceeds the federal government’s power to oversee interstate commerce (known as the “Commerce Clause”).
Last month, Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for Northern Florida (the other GOP appointee) ruled the ruled the entire law unconstitutional but stopped short of immediately halting its implementation.
Legal experts — including Kessler, according to her ruling — think the question will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.