A federal court judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday that the individual mandate in President Obama's health care reform law is unconstitutional.
The individual mandate in the 2010 law requires almost all Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty by 2014.
Judge Christopher Conner, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the individual mandate can be severed from the law only alongside two other provisions, one of which prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children under 19 with pre-existing conditions.
The nation undoubtably faces a health-care crisis, said Conner. Scores of individuals are uninsured and the costs to all citizens are measurable and significant. The federal government, however, is one of limited enumerated powers, and Congress' efforts to remedy the ailing health care and health insurance markets must fit squarely within the boundaries of those powers.
Tracy Schmaler, a U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman, told the Huffington Post after Tuesday's ruling: We believe, as other federal appeals courts have held, that the law is constitutional.
Conservatives offered qualified praise for the decision.
We applaud Judge Conner for striking down the unconstitutional individual mandate, and for going a step further and striking down the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions that would cost the health care industry countless billions of dollars, said Ken Klukowski, special counsel to the Family Research Council. While we are disappointed that Judge Conner didn't strike down the entire law, his partial severability decision took a route that FRC argued in our amicus brief was the minimum that a court must strike down.
The Pennsylvania case is one of 30 different lawsuits in various federal jurisdictions challenging the measure, entitled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Since June 29 separate lawsuits have already reached federal appeals courts in Richmond, Va., Atlanta and Cincinnati, Ohio. The U.S. appeals court in Richmond on Sept. 8 rejected two separate challenges on jurisdictional grounds. The U.S. appeals court in Atlanta ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional. The U.S. appeals court in Cincinnati ruled the individual mandate constitutional.
The Harrisburg ruling, if appealed, would be heard by the U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia,
The Supreme Court is expected to take up the issue.