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U.S. Appeals Court Rules Against Health Care Law's Individual Mandate

A U.S. appeals court has found the mandate in President Obama's health care law that requires individuals to purchase health insurance to be unconstitutional. The 2-1 ruling, on a suit brought by 26 states, agreed with a lower court in rejecting the "individual mandate," but it disagreed with the lower court's finding that the rest of the law must be struck down.

Update at 4:33 p.m. ET: As more of the ruling has been digested, we've added a few more details below, including some info from NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Parts of the original post have also been rewritten, for clarity.

The dissenting vote was cast by Judge Stanley Marcus, a Clinton appointee who was first appointed to a federal judgeship by President Reagan.

In late June, the health law was upheld by an appeals court in another case. The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that "the health care mandate requiring everyone to have health insurance or pay a penalty does not violate the Constitution," as Nina Totenberg reported for All Things Considered.

The new ruling comes from the U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta. As the AP reports, "the decision didn't go as far as a lower court that had invalidated the entire overhaul as unconstitutional."

In a report filed with our Newscastunit, Nina Totenberg discussed the ruling:

The constitutional pros and cons of the mandate rehashed in Friday's ruling are now well-known. The 207-page majority opinion said that the mandate exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce — that forcing people to either buy health insurance or face a financial penalty is a step too far, and that it would give Congress unbounded power to regulate anything and everything.

Judge Marcus, in dissent, accused the majority of disregarding longstanding Supreme Court precedent by striking down a comprehensive regulatory scheme adopted by Congress to ensure that those who need it get health care, and that those who can pay, do so — rather than having taxpayers pick up the tab for those who choose not to carry health insurance.

The court's majority decision was written by Chief Judge Joel F. Dubina, a 1990 appointee of President George H.W. Bush, and Judge Frank M. Hull, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Some experts argue that without the mandate that everyone purchase health insurance, the rest of the law won't work. The law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires that insurance companies cover everyone, regardless of preexisting health conditions. But as an economic proposition, the argument goes, universal health coverage is sustainable only if there are plenty of healthy people paying into the insurance pool — not just sick folks.

With two appeals courts now having come to two different conclusions about the constitutionality of President Obama's health law, it is likely that the Supreme Court will eventually rule on the matter. None of the legal challenges facing the law have yet made their way to the nation's highest court. (Kaiser Health News offers this handy scoreboard tracking the status of the lawsuits.)

In another development concerning the health care overhaul Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that signatures on a petition circulated by opponents of the health care plan were valid, clearing the way for a November vote on portions of the legislation dealing with changes to individual insurance.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.