WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the 2010 health-care law on Tuesday, granting the Obama administration its fourth win at the appellate level as it seeks ultimate affirmation of the law from the Supreme Court.
In a 2-to-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with a lower court judge's finding that Congress had the authority to enact the law's requirement that virtually all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.
The suit was brought by four individuals represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative litigation organization. They argued that the insurance mandate exceeded the limits of congressional power and impeded their free exercise of religion.
Writing for the majority, Senior Judge Laurence Silberman -- an appointee of President Ronald Reagan -- found that the insurance mandate fell within Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce. Senior Judge Harry Edwards, who was named to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, concurred. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, dissented, saying that the challenge should be dismissed as premature.
The ruling is the second appellate decision to affirm the law's constitutionality. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit dismissed two other challenges to the law -- including one brought by the state of Virginia -- on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.
Only one circuit court has ruled against the law: In a suit brought by the Republican attorneys general and governors of 26 states, a divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit struck down the insurance mandate, although it overturned a lower court judge's finding that the rest of the law also should be invalidated as a result.
The administration has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs in the three other cases also have petitioned the high court.
Given the split decisions at the appellate level and the high-profile and sweeping nature of the health-care law, it is near certain that the Supreme Court will take up at least one of those appeals.