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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A golden opportunity

Erin Kelly

Staff Writer

You may remember when Federal Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the entire health care law was unconstitutional earlier this year. His logic went something like this: Because he found the individual responsibility provision unconstitutional (apparently, because he thought health insurance is not interstate commerce), then the entire law must be thrown out. Experts across the ideological spectrum agreed that Judge Vinson was severely overreaching. After the ruling, the Obama Administration appealed Judge Vinson’s decision. And now, we enter round two.

On Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Georgia will hear arguments to determine whether Judge Vinson’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional should be upheld or overturned.

Three judges will hear the case. Chief Judge Joel Dubina was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. The other two judges are Clinton appointees, but interestingly one of them, Judge Stanley Marcus, is a Republican who was originally named to the District court by President Reagan. Opponents of health reform have maintained that the panel is clearly stacked in favor of policies put forward by Democrats. But in terms of party affiliation, the panel actually consists of two Republicans and one Democrat. Why is this detail important? Because so far, court rulings on the Affordable Care Act have fallen along party lines.

In addition to Judge Vinson, conservative Judge Henry E. Hudson, who also runs a political consulting business for the Republican party, ruled that the individual responsibility provision was unconstitutional. On the other hand, judges in Virginia, Michigan, and the District of Columbia have upheld the constitutionality of the entire Affordable Care Act—all of these judges are Democratic appointees. We’re hoping that this case breaks from the party-line pattern.

However, we’ve recently learned that Chief Judge Dubina’s daughter is a freshman member of the House of Representatives who campaigned largely on repealing the Affordable Care Act. That would seem to be bad news for supporters of the law, right? Not necessarily. We don’t know if Judge Dubina shares his daughter’s views on the merits of the Affordable Care Act. But even if he doesn’t like the policy or the politics surrounding the law, that doesn’t mean he should find it unconstitutional. Congress has passed lots of laws over the years that someone or other would like to change, but that doesn’t make the laws unconstitutional. The regulations in the law are clearly grounded in Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. Let’s hope all three judges in Atlanta will set politics aside and rule on the merits, not the politics, of the law.

This will be extremely important because millions of people do like this law and are already benefiting from it. Small businesses are receiving significant tax credits so they can provide insurance to their employees. Children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage just because they’ve been sick. And millions of seniors have received financial help to purchase prescription drugs when they fall into the doughnut hole.

Those working to repeal the Affordable Care Act don’t have Americans’ best interest at heart. Before the ink even dried on our new law, they began playing a dangerous political game where the real losers are middle-class Americans who have been at the mercy of insurance companies for far too long.

We are confident that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld in its entirety. Until then, we can only hope that those involved in these lawsuits will work hard to put the American people, not politicking, first.