Mead v. Holder Case Dismissed in DC Court


By Hadley Heath

In Washington D.C. Federal Judge Gladys Kessler has sided with Defendants in Mead v. Holder and has dismissed the case.  This case, like the majority of others, argued that the individual mandate was outside of Congress’s Commerce Clause powers.  Furthermore – and what makes this case different – the Plaintiffs pointed to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  This Act prohibits the Federal Government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.  Three of the five Plaintiffs make arguments that the purchase of health insurance would burden their exercise of religion.  Read the Complaint here.


In her memorandum opinion, Judge Kessler states that the Plaintiffs have standing to bring their case and that their case is ripe.  Her reasoning for dismissal focuses on the substantive arguments of the Plaintiffs.  When it comes to the individual mandate, Kessler posed three questions: 1) is the decision to buy health insurance an economic decision? 2) If so, do everyone’s decisions about health insurance (in aggregate) substantially affect the national health care market? And 3) is this action by Congress “an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated”?

And according to Judge Kessler, the answers are yes, yes, and yes, and therefore the mandate is constitutional.

But she’s wrong - according to other legal minds, like Stephen B. Presser, Professor of Legal History at Northwestern University School of Law:

[Kessler’s] opinion, like that of the two other federal district court judges before her who upheld the act, simply rejects out of hand the argument persuasive to the two federal judges who declared the Act unconstitutional -- to wit, that there ought to be limits to the powers of the federal government, and to impose a penalty for a decision not to act (a decision not to buy insurance) goes too far.  Judge Kessler, as did the two other judges upholding the act, simply waives away the problem that if Congress can impose penalties on Americans who choose not to act, there are, realistically speaking, no limits on Congressional power.  The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution clearly indicates that the federal government is supposed to be one of limited and enumerated powers.  This is what animated the two judges who declared the PPACA violated the Constitution.  Those two judges got it right, the Tenth Amendment should not be a dead letter, and, eventually, either Courts of Appeals, or more probably the United States Supreme Court will reach a similar conclusion.

And  Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute says this ruling "adds nothing":

This latest ruling adds nothing to the debate except a new federal appellate court from which we can expect an opinion later this year. The arguments on both sides are clear: On the one hand, the federal government cannot require people to engage in economic activity under the guise of regulating commerce. On the other, the decision not to act is itself an action that is subject to congressional regulation. The battle lines are drawn, the armies of lawyers ready. The only remaining question is whether the Supreme Court will ultimately find that there are constitutional limits to federal power.

The Bigger Picture

As Presser noted, this case comes after several others who have met mixed fates from federal judges.  The two most prominent dismissals are the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) case and the Liberty University case.  And the two cases that moved on to summary judgment – and then both won their cases – were the cases that involve states as Plaintiffs: Virginia and Florida.

Like Judge Steeh in TMLC, Judge Kessler relies heavily on the idea that the decision not to buy health insurance is an “economic decision” and therefore within the realm of Congress’s regulatory powers.  Kessler writes that Congress does have the authority to regulate the class of individuals who choose not to buy health insurance.  Even more troubling in this case is that Plaintiffs have clearly stated their intentions to never participate in the health care system at all, because of their personal beliefs.  If Congress can regulate that – what can’t it regulate?

As for the RFRA claim, Kessler ruled that – although Plaintiffs believe the purchase of insurance is in conflict with their Christian beliefs and their desire to rely solely on God for healing – this is not a substantial burden on their religious exercise, and hey, if it bothers them that much, they can just pay the fee.  Anyway, the “public interest” is more important in this case.  Read the full memorandum opinion here.


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