D.C. Judge Upholds Health Reform Law as Cases Move Toward Supreme Court

BY Lea Winerman  February 23, 2011 at 4:34 PM EST

In the judicial back and forth over the health care reform law, the score is now three to two.

On Tuesday, Federal District Court Judge Gladys Kessler of Washington, D.C. said that the law is constitutional. She tossed out a lawsuit that challenged the law’s individual mandate — the requirement that nearly every American purchase health insurance beginning in 2014.

Kessler is the fifth federal judge to rule on the law since October. Three have said that it is constitutional, two have said that it is not. The decisions have fallen along party lines — all of the judges who have ruled in favor of the law were appointed by Democratic presidents, both of those who decided against it were appointed by Republicans.

See the score below:

PLAINTIFFSTATERULING(D) OR (R) APPOINTEE?
Five individuals, represented by the American Center for Law & JusticeDCConstitutionalDemocrat
Twenty-six states, plus the National Federation of Independent Business Fla.Unconstitutional Republican
The Commonwealth of Virginia Va.Unconstitutional Republican
Liberty University Va.ConstitutionalDemocrat
The Thomas More Law Center Mich.ConstitutionalDemocrat

The cases will make their way through appeals courts and will almost certainly be decided by the Supreme Court (most likely in the spring of 2012, Politico reported). But in the meantime, the growing number of decisions provide legal arguments for appeals courts to consider — and political fodder for supporters and opponents of the law.

On Tuesday, Kessler dismissed a lawsuit that had been brought by five individual plaintiffs, represented by the conservative legal group the American Center for Law & Justice. The wrinkle in this case was that three of the plaintiffs argued that they plan to use no medical services for the rest of their lives due to religious reasons, saying they believe that God will provide for their health. Two others said that they prefer holistic healing methods not covered by insurance.

Kessler rejected their arguments, ruling that Congress has a right to regulate health insurance under the Constitution’s commerce clause, and that the plaintiffs could choose to pay the fine specified in the law if they did not want to buy health insurance.

Appeals court arguments are scheduled for this spring and summer for the two Virginia cases and the Michigan case, but are not yet scheduled for the highest-profile lawsuit, the one brought by 26 states’ attorneys general.