Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Health Care Reform Law
Another Federal Judge dismisses a Constitutional challenge to the health care reform law, and demonstrates just how unlikely it is that any of the lawsuits against the law will be successful.
The second ruling on the merits from a Federal Judge counts as another setback for opponents of the Affordable Care Act:
WASHINGTON — For the second time in two months, a federal judge has upheld the constitutionality of the new health care law, ruling on Tuesday that the requirement that most Americans obtain medical coverage falls within Congress’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.
The judge, Norman K. Moon of Federal District Court, who sits in Lynchburg, Va., issued a 54-page ruling that granted the government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Liberty University, the private Christian college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Last month, in a separate case, Judge George C. Steeh of Federal District Court in Detroit also upheld the law.
Like Judge Steeh, Judge Moon was appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
Judge Moon’s ruling on the heart of the case, whether the insurance mandate is authorized under the Commerce Clause is entirely predictable given the state of the law in that area:
The conclusion that decisions to pay for health care without insurance are economic activities follows from the Supreme Court’s rulings in Wickard and Raich. Plaintiffs’ preference for paying for health care needs out of pocket rather than purchasing insurance on the market is much like the preference of the plaintiff farmer in Wickard for fulfilling his demand for wheat by growing his own rather than by purchasing it. Plaintiffs do not consider themselves to be engaging in commerce, but as in Wickard, economic activity subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause need not involve transacting business in the marketplace. See Wickard, 317 U.S. at 128 (“[T]he power to regulate commerce includes the power to regulate . . . the practices affecting” the prices of commodities in interstate commerce.) (emphasis added). In Wickard, the plaintiff argued that his production of wheat was “not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm.” Id. at 118. The Court rejected that argument, stating that one effect of Congress’ regulation was to “forestall resort to the market by producing to meet [one’s] own needs.” Id. at 127. Because of the nature of supply and demand, Plaintiffs’ choices directly affect the price of insurance in the market, which Congress set out in the Act to control.
The conduct regulated by the individual coverage provision is also within the scope of Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause because it is rational to believe the failure to regulate the uninsured would undercut the Act’s larger regulatory scheme for the interstate health care market. See id. at 18; cf. Wickard, 317 U.S. at 128-29 (“Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm where grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.”). The Act institutes a number of reforms of the interstate insurance market to increase the availability and affordability of health insurance, including the requirement that insurers guarantee coverage for all individuals, even those with preexisting medical conditions. As Congress stated in its findings, the individual coverage provision is “essential” to this larger regulatory scheme because without it, individuals would postpone health insurance until they need substantial care, at which point the Act would obligate insurers to cover them at the same cost as everyone else. This would increase the cost of health insurance and decrease the number of insured individuals—precisely the harms that Congress sought to address with the Act’s regulatory measures.
If nothing else, this case points out just how difficult it will be for any of the Plaintiffs involved in the lawsuits against the health care reform bill to convince any Court of Appeals of the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate, not to mention the Supreme Court. In order for the Courts to do so, they are going to have to find more than 60 years of Commerce Clause jurisprudence to have been wrongly decided, and the odds of that happening seem to be slim indeed, as Orin Kerr noted at The Volokh Conspiracy earlier this year:
In my view, there is a less than 1% chance that courts will invalidate the individual mandate as exceeding Congress’s Article I power. I tend to doubt the issue will get to the Supreme Court: The circuits will be splitless, I expect, and the Supreme Court will decline to hear the case. In the unlikely event a split arises and the Court does take it, I would expect a 9-0 (or possibly 8-1) vote to uphold the individual mandate.
Blogging about such issues tends to bring out some unhappy responses, so let me be clear about a few things: (a) I don’t like the individual mandate, (b) if I were a legislator, I wouldn’t have voted for it, (c) I don’t like modern commerce clause doctrine, (d) if I were magically made a Supreme Court Justice in the mid 20th century, I wouldn’t have supported the expansion of the commerce clause so that it covers, well, pretty much everything, (e) I agree that the individual mandate exceeds an originalist understanding of the Commerce Clause, and (f) I agree that legislators and the public are free to interpret the Constitution differently than the courts and to vote against (or ask their legislator to vote against) the legislation on that basis.
But with all of these caveats, I’ll stand by my prediction. I just don’t see lower courts finding these issues difficult, and I don’t see the Supreme Court likely to take the case. I recognize there’s always the theoretical possibility of the Supreme Court doing something totally unexpected — a Bush v. Gore moment, if you will — but I think the realistic possibility of that happening is less than 1%.
I tend to agree with Kerr. There may be individual judges — such as Judge Hudson in Virginia or Judge Vinson in Florida — who issue a decision holding the individual mandate to be unconstitutional but, in the end, the conservative (and I don’t mean that in a political sense) nature of the judiciary and the pull of stare decisis will lead the appellate courts to side with the government here. If there is a defeat for ObamaCare, it will not happen in the courts.
Here’s the full text of Judge Moon’s decision: