A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Friday that a provision in President Obama's health care law requiring citizens to buy health insurance is unconstitutional, but the court didn't strike down the rest of the law.
The decision is a major setback for the White House, which had appealed a ruling by a lower court judge who struck down the entire law in January. But given that another appeals court, in Cincinnati, has upheld the law, it is increasingly clear that the Supreme Court will have the final say.
"We strongly disagree with this decision and we are confident it will not stand," White House spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a statement.
On Friday, the divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block Obama's signature domestic initiative. The panel said that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring Americans to buy insurance or face penalties.
"This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority," the panel said in the majority opinion.
The majority also said that a basic objective of the law is to "make health insurance coverage accessible and thereby to reduce the number of uninsured persons." Without the individual mandate, the majority said, the law "retains many other provisions that help to accomplish some of the same objectives as the individual mandate."