Change of Heart for 4th Circuit on Obamacare

     (CN) – Thoroughly chastened by the Supreme Court last summer, the 4th Circuit agreed that it has jurisdiction to uphold the constitutionality of the new health care law.
     Liberty University, founded in 1971 by evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell, had led the challenge amid dozens of lawsuits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009.
     The world’s largest evangelical Christian university, said the new health care bill would bar it from “providing health care choices for employees that do not conflict with the missions of the University and the core Christian values under which it and its employees order their day-to-day lives.”
     It also objected to the insurance coverage mandates imposed on employers and individuals, saying they overstep Congress’ powers, are unconstitutional and violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
     Specifically, the university worried that the law would adequately stop the government from using the mandatory insurance payments to fund abortions.
     Though a federal judge quickly upheld the law as constitutional, the 4th Circuit concluded in September 2011 that it lacked jurisdiction to review the so-called employer mandate, a provision that requires certain employers to insure workers and their dependants.
     It called the challenge “a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax.”
     In reversing that finding last year, the Supreme Court objected to the classification of the penalty as a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act.
     The court otherwise upheld the constitutionality of the law and remanded to the lower courts for further action.
     In its latest visit to the jurisdiction question, the 4th Circuit echoed the Supreme Court on Thursday.
     “Because Congress initially and primarily refers to the exaction as an ‘assessable payment’ and not a ‘tax,’ the statutory text suggests that Congress did not intend the exaction to be treated as a tax for purposes of the AIA,” the unsigned opinion states.
     Turning to the merits, the court found that mandate valid under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
     “For the reasons set forth within, we find that the employer mandate is no monster; rather, it is simply another example of Congress’s longstanding authority to regulate employee compensation offered and paid for by employers in interstate commerce,” the judges wrote.
     “Liberty fails to recognize the distinction between individuals not otherwise engaged in commerce and employers necessarily so engaged.”
     The court likewise sidelined the other challenges from Liberty University and the two individuals with whom it filed suit.
     “Plaintiffs present no plausible claim that the act substantially burdens their free exercise of religion, by forcing them to facilitate or support abortion or otherwise,” the judges wrote. “The act specifically provides individuals the option to purchase a plan that covers no abortion services except those for cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the mother would be endangered. The act also does nothing to prevent employers from providing such a plan. Furthermore, the act allows an individual to obtain, and an employer to offer, a plan that covers no abortion services at all, not even excepted services.”

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