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:

Liberty University et al v. Geithner et al

FILED UNDER: Health Care, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    I think it highly unlikely that this will be ruled unconstitutional, since federal power has so expanded over the years that it’s hard to conceive of anything government can’t do.  And I agree that stare decisis ties the hands of lower court judges.  So, if there’s an overturn, it’ll be by SCOTUS.  Which has gotten more Democrat over the last two years.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Oh:  And, if by some odd chance SCOTUS strikes down the mandate as a bridge too far, it could easily come back in the form of a tax hike and commensurate credit.  That would be obviously constitutional.

  3. john personna says:

    James, James, James.
     
    Remember that it is only colloquially a “mandate.”  Legally it is an income tax.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Remember that it is only colloquially a “mandate.”  Legally it is an income tax.

    But it’s a tax on people who don’t engage in a specified behavior.  That’s novel.  The customary approach would be to raise taxes and then offer a credit for engaging in specified behavior.  Functionally, they’re identical.  Legally, they may not be.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Until it reaches SCOTUS it is not decided.  It is an completely new type of law so nothing is for sure.

  6. Herb says:

    “If there is a defeat for ObamaCare, it will not happen in the courts.”

    It should have happened in the legislature, but alas we had a pretty substantial group that, having failed to obstruct, also failed to negotiate.

    “But it’s a tax on people who don’t engage in a specified behavior.”

    I guess….Most people, if given a free choice, would choose to engage in that specified behavior on their own accord. The tax will only be paid by free riders, so consider it a bit of the fare.

  7. Andyman says:

    @James,
     
    “But it’s a tax on people who don’t engage in a specified behavior.  That’s novel.”
     
    The electorate should decide whether it wants politicians thinking outside the box or not.  I enjoy creativity.
     
     

  8. Dodd says:

    There is no stare decisis for the mandate. It does not “follow from” Wickard and Raich, it expands them to the point that there are no cognizable limits on federal power.
    A Clinton appointee ruling otherwise just illustrates that elections matter, not that the mandate is unlikely to be struck down.

  9. Dodd,

    I agree but I don’t think that there are five Justices on the Supreme Court who will see it that way. I’m not even sure there’s more than one

  10. floyd says:

     The one thing that everyone one seems to agree on here is that ultimately the government has the power to evermore micromanage our lives,some even think they have the right to do so.
    Either way, slavery can no longer be openly defined as ownership, it is now incrementally attained by a constant narrowing of ones options,and so the brave new world begins….. 

  11. reid says:

    floyd: Not being a TP or libertarian zealot, no, I don’t agree.  I don’t feel that the government is “micromanaging” my life.  The whole idea is vastly overblown by people who have a vested interest in fanning such paranoid fears.  We have a long way to go before we’re even close to Big Brother.  In the meantime, I’m grateful we have an EPA, safety regulations, etc., and I’d be even happier with a public option health care system.  (By the way, I’m someone who does get a little irritated with minor overreaches like mandatory seat belt laws and DWI checkpoints and things like that.)

  12. reid says:

    Just re-read floyd’s post; maybe the government DOES have the legal power to ever more micromanage our lives, but the implication that I was addressing is that we’re even close to a situation where it actually is doing so.

  13. Herb says:

    “it expands them to the point that there are no cognizable limits on federal power.”

    Yeah, because breathless, hyperbolic statements like this are always convincing. Just ask Chicken Little.

  14. floyd says:

    Reid;
    To reiterate…”some even think they have the right to do so”.
    I am neither a “TP” nor a libertarian zealot, nonetheless we must respectfully disagree since I believe this nation abandoned even the thought of “limited government” decades ago, things like OSHA and EPA notwithstanding.
      This thing must by it’s nature be a matter of degree, and although we view this point differently I don’t accuse you of being a totalitarian, nor would I support anarchy.The fine point is really to what degree we value personal liberty and autonomy over corporate obligation and security. It is my fervent hope that every thinking individual can at least visualize a tipping point.  

  15. floyd says:

    Reid;
     Not to place you on the spot or anything but, if “we’re (not) even close” with this heath care plan what would be close.? Is it just a matter of whose Ox is being gored, or is there a principle which places the fulcrum on this issue.

  16. Herb says:

    “The fine point is really to what degree we value personal liberty and autonomy over corporate obligation and security.”
     
    Definitely a worthy point, but in this case the “personal liberty and autonomy” issues are red herrings.  Bottom line:  The public’s right not to pay for free riders trumps an individual’s right not to buy health insurance.

  17. floyd says:

    Herb;
     I’m sure we’d have divergent definitions of “free riders”.  This plan adds tens of millions of them at a much greater cost with a loss of quality and choice. If the argument were merely “the public’s right not to pay for free riders” then simple denial of service or reliance on charity would solve the problem completely. In this case “personal liberty and autonomy” was a point of clarity.
    Those who pay now will continue to pay, and more, for less. Those who do not pay now will not pay under this plan…. therein lies a whole school of the aforementioned fish, dried, smoked and swallowed whole by a myriad of “hope” filled obfuscators espousing the virtues of “corporate obligation and security”.
    I suppose these are just views from opposing sides of the fulcrum.

  18. Dodd says:

    Yeah, because breathless, hyperbolic statements like this are always convincing. Just ask Chicken Little.

    It’s not even remotely hyperbolic, it is plain truth. If the feds have the power to order you to buy health insurance (rather than deciding for yourself how to structure paying for your own needs) simply because you’ll eventually have to make use of the health care market, they have the power to force you to do all manner of other actions. Eat only approved foodstuffs (we all have to eat), purchase only GM Volts (we all have to move around); use only CFLs (we all need light)… oh, wait….
    The logic of Wickard granted the federal gov’t to much more far-reaching powers than the Constitution ever contemplated. This opinion’s line of reasoning all but removes any remaining limits.

  19. Herb says:

    ” If the argument were merely “the public’s right not to pay for free riders” then simple denial of service or reliance on charity would solve the problem completely. ”
     
    You’re right, but we decided that we’re not going to do the “denial of service” thing and relying on charity is just absurd.  We had a choice between a privately held and operated insurance-based system and a single-payer government provided type system.  There would be trade-offs with both.  The “loss of quality and choice” that you speak of would have most definitely come with the latter.  With the former, we lose the ability to go without health insurance.
    In the absence of a perfect world with no compromises, I’ll learn to live with it.

    If the feds have the power to order you to buy health insurance

    Do they have that power?  Or are they just reserving the power to tax you if you don’t?  Hopefully we can agree that taxing you for not doing something is a bit different than forcing you do it.
     
    I pay extra taxes for being an unmarried and childless, but that doesn’t mean the feds are forcing me to get married and procreate.
     
    As for the “rather than deciding for yourself how to structure paying for your own needs” thing, that’s all good and great.  But there are people who decide the best way to pay for their own needs is to forgo health insurance and then when they get sick, stick their hand out.
    As for your fear of eating only approved foodstuffs, only buying Volts and CFLs, I don’t know what to tell you.  There is no monster under your bed.  The closet contains only clothes.  That sound is just the house settling.  And that all-powerful government that uses Wickard-based logic to control your life doesn’t exist.

  20. […] against the law. So far, two other Federal District Court Judges, one in Michigan and the other elsewhere in Virginia have come down on the exact opposite side as Judge Hudson. Regardless of their outcome, each of […]