Second Federal Judge Declares Health Care Reform Law Unconstitutional
Adopting many of the same arguments that Judge Henry Hudson did in his decision in December, Federal Judge Roger Vinson in Florida issued a ruling today declaring the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional:
A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that requires all Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at two-to-two in the lower courts as the conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.
Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., ruled that the law will remain in effect until all appeals are concluded, a process that could take two years. However, Judge Vinson determined that the entire law should fall if appellate courts agree with his opinion that the insurance requirement is invalid.
“The Act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.
In a 78-page opinion, Judge Vinson held that the insurance requirement exceeds the regulatory powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Judge Vinson wrote that the provision could not be rescued by an associated clause in Article I that gives Congress broad authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its designated responsibilities.
“If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain,” Judge Vinson wrote.
The judge’s ruling came in the most prominent of the more than 20 legal challenges mounted against some aspect of the sweeping health law, which was enacted last year by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama in March.
The plaintiffs include governors and attorneys general from 26 states, all but one Republican, as well as the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small companies. Officials from six states joined the lawsuit just this month after shifts in party control brought by November’s midterm elections.
While Judge Vinison’s ruling comes to most of the same conclusions on the substantive issues in the case, he went further in one important way. Unlike Judge Hudson, Vinson also declined to sever the individual mandate from the rest of the ACA, and ended up declaring the entire law unconstitutional:
The existing problems in our national health care system are recognized by everyone in this case. There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a waythat the nation can afford. This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution. Again, this case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government.
For the reasons stated, I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here.
Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanius agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
In closing, I will simply observe, once again, that my conclusion in this case is based on an application of the Commerce Clause law as it exists pursuant to the Supreme Court’s current interpretation and definition. Only the Supreme Court (or a Constitutional amendment) can expand that.
This is the fourth District Court opinion on the Affordable Care Act, and the second to declare it unconstitutional. In October, a Federal Judge in Michigan upheld the law’s constitutionality and his decision was quickly followed by a decision from a Federal Judge in Charlottesville, Virginia that upheld the law. Then, in December Judge Hudson issued his ruling declaring the law unconstitutional. The Michigan case is now pending in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and both of the Virginia cases have been consolidated by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and set on a briefing schedule that would probably put oral argument in that case on the calendar sometime in May of this year. Vinson’s ruling will also be appealed, of course, and it will end up before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. And, from there, all of these cases will head to the Supreme Court where, as I noted in December, the prospects for the arguments against the individual mandate do not look good at all.
So, stay tuned, because this story is far from over.