PLF files opening appellate brief in “Origination Clause” challenge to Obamacare
Washington, D.C.; October 24, 2013: Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation have filed their opening brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in PLF's challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – i.e., Obamacare — for imposing unconstitutionally enacted taxes.
Obamacare's individual mandate requires nearly all Americans to buy a federally prescribed health insurance plan or pay a charge to the federal government. In its 2012 ruling on Obamacare, the U.S. Supreme Court identified this charge as a federal tax, but the court was not asked — and did not address — whether this tax was enacted constitutionally.
PLF's lawsuit targets Obamacare — and, in particular, the individual mandate's tax imposed on individuals who refuse to buy a federally prescribed insurance plan — because it originated in the wrong house of Congress. Obamacare started in the Senate; but the Constitution's “Origination Clause” (Article I, Section 7) requires that taxes start in the House, in order to keep the taxing power close to the people.
“Majority Leader Harry Reid violated the Constitution by unveiling Obamacare in the Senate,” said PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II. “With its hundreds of billions of dollars in new levies — including the individual mandate — Obamacare should have been introduced in the House, where all taxation must begin. But Reid pulled it out of his hat in the Senate. He used a procedural gimmick. He took an unrelated House measure designed to help veterans buy homes, and then erased its text and substituted Obamacare, with its onerous burden of new regulations and taxation.
“The Supreme Court has never addressed this kind of gut and switch ploy,” Beard continued. “The violation is so blatant that it can't be given a pass, if the Origination Clause is to have any integrity.” Indeed, Georgetown University Law School Professor Randy Barnett, a leading constitutional critic of Obamacare, has written with reference to PLF's lawsuit: “If any act violates the Origination Clause, it would seem to be the Affordable Care Act.”
“By challenging Sen. Reid's evasion of constitutional rules on taxation, PLF is on the cutting edge in the fight for taxpayers' rights and for fundamental procedural protections for liberty,” said PLF Principal Attorney Timothy Sandefur. “The Origination Clause is no dusty technicality. The Founders viewed it as a crucial safeguard by leaving the potentially dangerous taxing power with the lawmakers who are most accountable to voters — members of the House, who are elected directly every other year.”
The trial court's ruling would create a massive loophole in Article I Section 7
PLF is appealing from a June 28, 2013, District Court ruling exempting the individual mandate from the Origination Clause on the grounds that this particular tax is intended to prod people to buy government-decreed health plans. “There is no precedent for setting aside the Constitution's procedural requirements merely because a tax influences conduct,” said Beard. “In fact, as the Supreme Court noted in its Obamacare ruling last year, every tax has a regulatory purpose of some kind. The District Court's doctrine would carve a massive loophole in the Origination Clause – essentially repealing it through judicial exceptions and exemptions.”
PLF's lawsuit aims to take down all of Obamacare
Many legal challenges have been launched against Obamacare, but most focus on narrow aspects. Not PLF's challenge. “Our lawsuit takes on Obamacare in its entirety,” said PLF Staff Attorney Daniel Himebaugh. “We're challenging the individual mandate, but it's such a central component that we're asking that the entire law be struck down.”
Although PLF's case won't be heard by the Court of Appeal until next year, that won't be too late to pull the plug on the law. “Even though Obamacare's regulations are starting to take effect, the courts still have a duty to hold the law accountable to the Constitution,” said Beard. “Our case is powerful — based on the clear text of the Constitution and a plain-as-day violation. A victory in our case must mean that Obamacare should be halted, even if parts or all of it have already come online. The fact that an illegal law is operating doesn't make it any less illegal — and subject to being struck down.”
Plaintiff Matt Sissel: “I'm in this to defend freedom and the Constitution”
PLF attorneys represent Matt Sissel, a small business owner who chooses to pay for medical expenses on his own, rather than buy health insurance. He objects on financial, philosophical, and constitutional grounds to being ordered by the federal government to purchase a health care plan he does not need or want, on pain of a financial penalty.
“I'm in this case to defend freedom and the Constitution,” said Sissel. “I strongly believe that I should be free — and all Americans should be free — to decide how to provide for our medical needs, and not be forced to purchase a federally dictated health care plan. I'm very concerned about Congress ignoring the constitutional roadmap for enacting taxes, because those procedures are there for a purpose — to protect our freedom.”
An artist and owner of an art business, Matt was a soldier with the Iowa Army National Guard from 2000 to 2008. He spent two years in Iraq as a combat medic, the second of which he volunteered for, providing medical care to the sick and wounded. On top of those duties, his second year was spent training and advising the Iraqi military. During his second tour, he received the Bronze Star for his service.
The case is Sissel v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. PLF’s opening appellate brief, a detailed litigation backgrounder, video, and a podcast may be found at PLF’s website: www.pacificlegal.org.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is a watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, individual rights, and free enterprise, in courts nationwide.