A federal appeals panel struck down the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's sweeping health care overhaul Friday, moving the argument over whether Americans can be required to buy health insurance a step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded Congress overstepped its authority when lawmakers passed the so-called individual mandate, the first such decision by a federal appeals court. It's a stinging blow to Obama's signature legislative achievement, as most experts agree the requirement that Americans carry health insurance - or face tax penalties - is the foundation for other parts of the law.
Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull found in a 207-page opinion that lawmakers cannot require residents to "enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die."
In a lengthy dissent, Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus accused the majority of ignoring the "undeniable fact that Congress' commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries." He wrote that Congress generally has the constitutional authority to create rules regulating large areas of the national economy.
The White House argued the legislative branch was using a "quintessential" power - its constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, including the health care industry - when it passed the overhaul law. Administration officials said they are confident the ruling will not stand. The Justice Department can ask the full 11th Circuit to review the panel's ruling and will also likely appeal to the Supreme Court.