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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Falwell's Friends Fail

Marc Steinberg

Deputy Director of Health Policy

On Tuesday, a federal court in Lynchburg, Virginia dismissed a lawsuit brought by Liberty University and five individuals challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Among other claims, Liberty University—an institution founded by Jerry Falwell, and now led by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr.—made the now familiar, if dubious, argument that the personal responsibility provision of the law is unconstitutional. The court disagreed and upheld all the aspects of the law challenged in the case, including finding that the personal responsibility provision is entirely constitutional. It then dismissed the case.

Although this case has attracted less publicity than higher-profile cases brought by states in Virginia and Florida, it’s just as important. It’s only the second case in the nation to address the merits of the Affordable Care Act, following a similar decision in Michigan in October. Both cases have reached the same conclusion: the Affordable Care Act as a whole, and the personal responsibility provision in particular, are squarely constitutional. As Judge Moon in the Liberty University case put it, although the challenge to the Affordable Care Act presents a “novel set of facts,” the applicable law is “well-settled.”

The outcomes of these two cases highlight just how radical the legal arguments made by the opponents of the Affordable Care Act really are. They are trying to undo in the courts the progress that they could not stop in Congress, and they are willing to overturn decades of legal precedent to achieve their goals. They don’t seem to care that undoing the progress this law has made would mean returning back to a place where people with pre-existing conditions can’t get coverage, where people can go bankrupt because they are sick, and where insurance companies can charge exorbitant premiums without any oversight.

The legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act will probably take years to unfold and ultimately end up in the Supreme Court. We can’t predict how each individual case will turn out along the way. But the decision on Tuesday, along with the Michigan decision before it, demonstrate that reasonable judges will ultimately see the Affordable Care Act for what it is­—a carefully crafted, and entirely constitutional, law that represents the biggest step forward for health security in our nation’s history.