Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act

The Obama administration filed its first brief with the Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of the requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that most citizens purchase healthcare insurance or pay a penalty – the individual mandate. The administration argues that the mandate is an acceptable use of Congress’ taxing power and defends the policy under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. Briefs also were filed by opponents of the ACA arguing that if the court invalidates the individual mandate, the remaining components of healthcare reform cannot function properly. The court has scheduled three days of oral arguments in late March when it will address four issues, including the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion, whether the entire ACA fails if the individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional, and whether the court should wait to consider the constitutionality of the law until someone has actually been required to pay a penalty for not having insurance.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta earlier this year declared the law’s individual mandate unconstitutional but left the remainder of the measure intact. Two other federal appeals courts have upheld the law’s constitutionality, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled it would be premature to decide the case.

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