Jun 29 11 2:20 PM

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In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The decision marks the first time an appellate court has weighed in on the issue and also the first time a judge, appointed by a Republican president, has voted to uphold the law.

The case stems from a challenge from the Thomas More Center, a public interest law firm, and four Michigan residents who claimed that the individual mandate -- the portion of the law that requires individuals to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty-- is unconstitutional.

In his opinion Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause because the provision "regulates economic activity" with a "substantial" effect on interstate commerce.

"In addition, " he wrote, "Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in heath care and health insurance."

Martin, who was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter, was joined in the decision by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. Before today every other judge who had voted to uphold the law was nominated by a Democratic president and those who voted against it were nominated by a Republican president.

"Judge Sutton's thoughtful opinion upholds Congress's power to enact the minimum coverage provision of the ACA," said Elizabeth B. Wydra, Chief Counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center, who supports the law. "His opinion is a timely reminder that the legal fight over the constitutionality of the Act is a legal dispute not a partisan battle. Judges across the political spectrum have the duty to uphold the Constitution's text and history and respect Supreme Court precedent, which is exactly what the Sixth Circuit did today. "