A judge that upholds the legality of the individual mandate does exist! Yesterday, U.S. District Judge George Steeh dismissed the Thomas More Law Center’s central arguments against the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and denied a requested injunction that would have stalled health reform implementation. In an effort to dismantle health reform, anti-reform groups are pursuing a legal avenue that would invalidate a central pillar of health reform — the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance. Despite the federal judge’s ruling in Michigan, however, the individual mandate remains under scrutiny in Florida and Virginia.

Steeh, a Clinton appointee, maintains that Congress did not overstep its authority in requiring individuals to purchase health insurance and doing so is within their power; he cites numerous Supreme Court rulings to support his assertions. Steeh writes: “Because the ‘penalty’ is incidental to these purposes, plaintiffs’ challenge to the constitutionality of the penalty as an improperly apportioned direct tax is without merit.” When translated, this means that Congress may use the individual mandate and associated penalties to achieve the greater goal of insuring all Americans. This is great news for supporters of ACA, mostly because it’s a win for moving health reform implementation forward.

The More Center lawsuit is similarly aligned with the suit brought by the 20 attorneys general nationwide, currently being heard in a Florida U.S. district court. The AG suit is assumed to move forward; Judge Roger Vinson of the Florida US district court hinted in an earlier ruling that some major points would progress to trial in December.

The Michigan ruling illustrates the pendulum on which the individual mandate resides. For the citizenry there is little to do but watch it swing. It is likely that the Supreme Court will be the only hand that can stop it.

— Eva Marie Stahl, Policy Consultant