Health-Care Law Upheld as Constitutional by Judge in First Legal Victory

A U.S. judge upheld the constitutionality of the health-care overhaul President Barack Obama signed in March, rejecting an argument by a self-described Christian law center in the first court victory for the new law.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit today denied the Thomas More Law Center’s request for an injunction against the law and said the group failed to prove the statute is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause. Steeh also rejected a challenge to the provision that imposes a financial penalty for having no insurance.

“The minimum coverage provision, which addresses economic decisions regarding health-care services that everyone eventually, and inevitably, will need, is a reasonable means of effectuating Congress’s goal,” Steeh wrote.

Today’s court ruling is the first to uphold the constitutionality of the law, which Michigan and 20 other states are challenging in separate lawsuits. A U.S. judge in Virginia already has refused to dismiss a claim seeking to overturn the law, and a federal judge in Florida said he is inclined to do the same.

Steeh rejected claims by the U.S. that the Thomas More center didn’t have standing and that the case wasn’t ready for litigation. The government had said the court had no justification for hearing the lawsuit because the insurance requirement won’t take effect until 2014.

‘Essential Part’

“It certainly appears that the government has an interest in knowing sooner, rather than later, whether an essential part of its program regulating the national health care market is constitutional, although in this case it is not the government asking for the review,” Steeh wrote.

Robert Muise, an attorney for Thomas More, said he will appeal today’s ruling. The center, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is dedicated to the “defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians,” according to its website.

The law center, the plaintiff in the Michigan case along with four uninsured individuals, argued before Steeh in July that the statute creates a tax, in the form of compulsory insurance, that Congress lacks the power to enact. The center also claimed the law would violate religious freedoms by using its members’ tax dollars to pay for abortions.

‘Reasonable Means’

“The court found that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable means for Congress to take in reforming our health-care system,” Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Washington, said in an e-mailed statement. “The department will continue to vigorously defend this law in ongoing litigation.”

States seeking to overturn the law, including Michigan, claim its requirement that Americans buy health insurance exceeds the authority given to Congress by the Constitution. The U.S. contends Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce allows it to impose mandatory insurance premiums because $43 billion in unpaid medical bills are absorbed each year into a national market.

A federal judge in Pensacola, Florida, has said he will decide by next week whether to throw out that state’s lawsuit challenging the law. He said he probably will allow at least part of it to proceed. Michigan is a plaintiff in that case.

Another suit, brought in Virginia, survived an initial motion to dismiss and faces further arguments on Oct. 18.

The case is Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, 10cv11156, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

To contact the reporter on this story: William McQuillen in Washington at bmcquillen@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.