A unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit July 11 declared the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate a valid exercise of Congress's power to regulate commerce under the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause (Liberty University Inc. v. Lew, 4th Cir., No. 10-2347, 7/11/13).
In an opinion co-authored by Judges Diana Gribbon Motz, James A. Wynn Jr., and Andre M. Davis, the court held that the mandate is ''simply an example of Congress's longstanding authority to regulate employee compensation offered and paid for by employers in interstate commerce.''
The ruling comes in a case filed by Liberty University Inc. and two individual plaintiffs that challenged both the individual and employer mandates. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has been substituted as a defendant in place of former Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Stuart Gerson, a former acting U.S. attorney general who is now an attorney with Epstein Becker Green in Washington, told BNA July 11 that ''there is considerable force to the Fourth Circuit's view that health insurance decisions affect employment, which itself is a matter of interstate commerce.''
He predicted that, if the case returns to the Supreme Court—as seems likely based on a July 11 press release from the university's attorneys—there would be four solid votes to uphold the Fourth Circuit's ruling. But, he said, ''it is difficult to predict how the chief justice and the other four conservative justices come out on this point.'' He added, though, that ''one must at least recognize that there is a difference between an individual's decision not to engage in commerce and the clear commercial activity in which Liberty indisputably engages.''
Of course, Gerson said, if the conservatives on the high court vote to uphold Liberty's challenge to the employer mandate, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ''could again perform the legerdemain and create a fifth vote for affirmance by holding that the employer man- date is supportable under the tax power as was the individual mandate in NFIB. The Fourth Circuit's alternative reasoning allows for this result.''
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