On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson issued a 78-page ruling finding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – more commonly known as “ObamaCare” – to be unconstitutional. His ruling goes beyond even that issued in December by Judge Henry Hudson in another suit challenging the law, brought by Virginia’s attorney general.
One has to search long and hard before one finds a federal case declaring an act of Congress unconstitutional because it exceeded the so-called “commerce clause” powers afforded the Congress in Article I of the Constitution. But this latest decision found this to have been precisely the case. This is a welcome decision and one long overdue. We can only hope that Judge Vinson’s sound constitutional analysis is upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court decides this matter, as it almost certainly will in the near future. If it does, the constitutional principle of limited and enumerated federal government powers will have had some real life breathed back into it.
Judge Vinson’s opinion was based on a lawsuit filed immediately after President Obama signed the legislation into law last spring, by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and attorneys general representing a dozen other states. The essential thrust of the lawsuit was that the law’s so-called “individual mandate” requiring every American to maintain government-defined, minimum health insurance coverage or pay a punitive tax, was unconstitutional; in violation of the Commerce Clause found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. By the time Vinson issued his ruling earlier this week, 13 more states joined the lawsuit – bringing the total to 26 states; more than half the country.
Vinson laid out his ruling eloquently — masterfully deconstructing the Obama Administration’s arguments in support of the law one by one. He was careful to point out that his ruling was not about the health care policy implications of the law; but was based instead on the “very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government”; in a word, federalism.
On the administration’s attempt to pass the individual mandate off as a reasonable use of the Commerce Clause, Vinson wrote, “Here, people have no choice but to buy insurance or be penalized. And their freedom is actually more restricted as they do not even have a choice as to the minimum level or type of insurance to buy because Congress established the floor. A single twenty-year old man or woman who only needs and wants major medical or catastrophic coverage, for example, is precluded from buying such a policy under the Act.”
Vinson also noted in his ruling that Obama himself was dismissive of the individual mandate; pointing to comments Obama made in 2008 on CNN’s American Morning where he argued against the health care plan of his then-Democratic primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. The plan Obama ridiculed at that time would have required all Americans to purchase health insurance. As Obama explained, “[I]f a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.”
Words once spoken have a nasty habit of finding their way back around to you when you later shift positions.
Strangely, when it considered and passed the legislation last year, the Congress failed to include a severability clause in the legislation – language that would allow other sections to remain in effect if one or more provisions were found to be invalid. This error came back to bite the law’s supporters hard. Judge Vinson concluded that the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate was essential to the law, because it is “inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit.” In other words, the entire law is null and void; and the administration cannot continue implementation until a stay is ordered by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta.
Not surprisingly, it appears the Obama Administration has no intention of complying with Judge Vinson’s ruling. In this arrogant attitude, Obama is acting as did one of his predecessors — Andrew Jackson — who once thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court when it issued an opinion with which he disagreed; saying, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”
It remains unclear at this point whether the High Court will agree with Judge Vinson’s stellar ruling. Some “conservative” justices on the Court, such as Antonin Scalia, for example, have in recent years declared government overreaching under the Commerce Clause to be appropriate in a number of highly questionable circumstances.
But at least for now, those of us who believe in the Constitution, and in the limited system of federal power it constructed, can let out a rousing cheer for Judges Vinson and Hudson.
- by Bob Barr, The Barr Code