On Friday, August 12, 0211, a federal appeals court in Atlanta struck down the "individual mandate" portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  This 2-1 decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals brings the ongoing legal dispute over the constitutionality of the healthcare legislation one step closer to the United States Supreme Court.

In their 207-page majority opinion, Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull found that the "individual mandate" provision of the law, which requires the uninsured to buy health insurance, violates the Constitution because it is beyond Congress' power to regulate such activity.  The opinion admonishes that lawmakers cannot require residents to "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."  The Court did find, however, that other provisions of the new law are permissible, including the expansion of Medicaid coverage.

In his lengthy dissent, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus states that Congress generally has the constitutional authority to create rules regulating large areas of the national economy since Congress' commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries.

Some 26 states, including Florida, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah, have challenged the legislation within the 11th  Circuit.  The  decision  contrasts  with  one  by  the  Appeals  Court  for  the  6th  Circuit,  based  in Cincinnati, which upheld the individual mandate as constitutional. That case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court.  Two more federal appeals courts, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court out of Virginia and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court out of New Jersey, are expected to rule on the constitutionality of the new law before summer is through.  It is predicted that Friday’s 11th Circuit decision will precipitate an appeal to the United Supreme Court and that most of the merit briefs from the appeals courts should be on file with the Supreme Court by the end of the year.

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