Sixth Circuit Upholds Constitutionality of Reform Law

In what is being hailed by some as a big victory for the Obama administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit June 29th delcared the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision a valid exercise of congressional authority under the commerce clause (Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, 6th Cir., No. 10-2388, 6/29/11).

The ruling upheld a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, which refused to enjoin implementation of PPACA after finding the mandate constitutional. The plaintiffs in the case included the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest law firm.

“Today’s ruling is a huge victory for the millions of Americans who are already benefitting from the Affordable Care Act and the millions more who will in the coming years,” according to Eddie Vale, communications director for advocacy group Protect Your Care.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said in a press release that the “decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of health coverage to tens of millions of people is a victory for common sense.” Pollack added that he expects “other appellate courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court, will reach the same decision.”

In the first part of the opinion, authored by Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. and joined in part by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, the court said the individual mandate, or minimum coverage provision, “falls within Congress’s power to regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.”

Congress can regulate even wholly intrastate economic activity, as long as it would substantially affect interstate commerce, the court said. Congress also can regulate noneconomic intrastate activity if doing so would be essential to a larger scheme that regulates economic activity, it said. The individual mandate passes muster under both tests, the court held.

Against the backdrop of PPACA’s broader statutory scheme, the court said, the minimum coverage provision is “a regulation on the activity of participating in the national market for health care delivery, and specifically the activity of self-insuring for the cost of these services.” By regulating this activity, the individual mandate is facially constitutional because it regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce and because Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme of reforming the interstate health care and health insurance markets, the court said.

Judge James L. Graham dissented from the judgment.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, issued the following statement: “We welcome the Sixth Circuit’s ruling today dismissing this challenge to the Affordable Care Act and its finding that Congress acted within its authority in passing this landmark health care reform law.”

Schmaler said DOJ “will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it.” Like challenges to “other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act,” DOJ expects “these challenges to health reform [to] also fail.”

On the White House blog, Stephanie Cutter, assistant to the president and deputy senior adviser, posted: “We’re gratified by today’s ruling, which came from judges appointed by Democratic and Republican Presidents who agreed that the law’s individual responsibility provision (sometimes called the minimum coverage provision) is constitutional.”

The court’s opinion is available at

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