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Health law survives test in appeals court

A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the Obama administration's health care law on Tuesday, in a decision written by a prominent conservative jurist.

The decision came as the Supreme Court is about to consider whether to take up challenges to the Affordable Care Act, a milestone legislative initiative of the administration.

Of four appellate court rulings on the health care law so far, this is the third to deal with the law on the merits, and the second that upholds it.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Washington issued the 37-page opinion by Judge Laurence H. Silberman. In the opinion, Silberman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, described the law as part of the fundamental tension between individual liberty and legislative power.

''The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute, and yields to the imperative that Congress be free to forge national solutions to national problems, no matter how local — or seemingly passive — their individual origins," he wrote. The fact that Congress may have never issued an individual mandate to purchase something before, a central argument for many opposing the law, "seems to us a political judgment rather than a recognition of constitutional limitations," he wrote.


A 65-page dissent by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a conservative jurist appointed by President George W. Bush, stated that the courts lack jurisdiction until the law's tax penalties take effect in 2015. Citing the 19th-century Anti-Injunction Act, he said that the "important and long-standing" law "poses a jurisdictional bar to our deciding this case at this time."

The split among the appellate courts increases chances that the Supreme Court will hear the case. Tuesday's opinion is the second appeals court decision that upholds the law on the merits. The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, struck down the individual mandate in a suit brought by officials of 26 states, and experts say it is most likely to be among those that the Supreme Court will choose to hear if the judges decide to take up the cases at their private conference Thursday.

The fact that two leading lights of conservative jurisprudence decided against positions held by opponents of the health care law threatens to upend the popular notion that the fate of the law will be determined by judges along political lines.

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