Nonetheless, the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit could offer the armada of Republican state leaders who have taken on the law their best chance of a win during stage two of a multi-pronged, protracted legal battle widely expected to end in the Supreme Court.
More than 30 suits have been filed since the Affordable Care Act was adopted in March 2010, nearly all by individuals and organizations. Appellate courts in Richmond and Cincinnati have heard arguments in three of the cases over the past several weeks, including one filed separately by the state of Virginia.
The three judges who heard that case last month, along with another lawsuit brought by private parties in Virginia, were appointed by Democratic presidents, including two named by President Obama. And they spent considerable time questioning whether Virginia even has standing to sue.
By contrast, the three judges randomly assigned to the multi-state suit in the Atlanta court Wednesday are a more diverse group: Although both Hull and Judge Stanley Marcus were appointed to their current posts by President Bill Clinton, Marcus was first tapped for the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.
Chief Judge Joel F. Dubina was named by President George W. Bush.While a judge’s political connections do not indicate how he or she will rule, so far lower courts have cleaved along markedly partisan lines: Four federal district judges appointed by Democratic presidents have upheld the law’s constitutionality. Two named by Republicans deemed it invalid.
At issue in all these cases is whether Congress overstepped its constitutional authority to regulate commerce when it included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires virtually all Americans to obtain health insurance after 2014 or pay a fine.
The district judge who heard the Virginia case struck down the insurance mandate but found that the rest of the law could remain intact. In the multi-state lawsuit on appeal in Atlanta, the lower court judge, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, invalidated the entire law, reasoning that the insurance requirement was inextricably linked with the rest of the statute.
Vinson, did not, however agree with the states’ claim that the legislation violated the Constitution by requiring states to cover a larger share of the poor through Medicaid, which is funded by federal and state money.
During the nearly three-hour appellate hearing Wednesday, the judges appeared open to reconsidering that question, if not necessarily convinced of the legal arguments.