by Nancy Frazier O’Brien
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Although legal scholars and political observers will likely spend days parsing each line of the 193 pages of U.S. Supreme Court opinions and dissents on the health reform law, the court’s June 28 decision is not likely to be its final word on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“It seems to me the (Obama) administration has won one legal challenge and there are 23 others waiting in the wings,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a professor of constitutional law at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.
The Becket Fund represents Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Colorado Christian University in Denver, Eternal Word Television Network in Birmingham, Ala., and Ave Maria University in Florida in lawsuits challenging the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate requiring most religious employers to provide contraceptives and sterilization to their employees free of charge.
Another 12 lawsuits involving 43 Catholic dioceses, schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other institutions were filed simultaneously in May; several private employers, Catholic organizations such as Priests for Life and Legatus and some non-Catholic colleges also are challenging the mandate in court.
The June 28 decision dealt with the individual mandate – the requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service – but the lawsuits against the HHS mandate relate to the law’s employer mandate, which punishes employers who do not provide health insurance to their employees.
“The court’s opinion today did not decide the issues in our cases,” said Hannah Smith, another Becket Fund senior counsel. “We are challenging the HHS mandate on religious liberty grounds which are not part of today’s decision. We will move forward seeking vindication of our client’s First Amendment rights.”
Legal scholars did not see a lot of new constitutional ground broken by the decision, which found that although the individual mandate does not pass constitutional muster under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, it can be upheld as an acceptable exercise of Congress’ taxing powers.
The decision also limited the federal government’s right to withhold its share of Medicaid funding from states that do not expand the health program for the low-income and disabled as mandated by the law.
It would have been groundbreaking, according to former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, if the four dissenting court members had been able to convince a fifth to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act.