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February 2, 2011

The Nuts and Bolts of Judge Vinson's ObamaCare Ruling

Topics: Political News and commentaries

Good review at the Wall Street Journal of how Judge Vinson struck down the entire health-reform law on the grounds that the individual mandate was not severable from the rest of the statute.

According to the government's theory, wrote Judge Vinson, 'the more harm the statute does, the more power Congress could assume for itself under the Necessary and Proper Clause.'

Randy E. Barnett and Elizabeth Price Foley write:

For months, progressives smugly labeled the legal challenges to ObamaCare as "silly" or even "frivolous." Today their confidence must be severely shaken.

Late Monday afternoon in Pensacola, Fla., U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson delivered the second major judgment that the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- the "individual mandate" that forces Americans to buy health insurance whether or not they want it -- is unconstitutional.

In December, District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled against the mandate in a separate lawsuit brought by the state of Virginia. But Judge Vinson's sweeping and powerfully reasoned decision this week went much further, striking down the entire health-reform law on the grounds that the individual mandate was not severable from the rest of the statute. And the plaintiffs in Judge Vinson's courtroom included the attorneys general of 26 states, not just one. His opinion thus casts a dark shadow over ObamaCare until the Supreme Court issues a final ruling on the matter.

Consider the problems posed by the insurance mandate. The Obama administration argued that it was supported by the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. True enough, insurance is commerce, but not buying insurance is the antithesis of commerce. Commerce has always been understood as requiring economic activity. This was the rationale Judge Hudson adopted in striking down the individual mandate in the Virginia case.

The government's lawyers in the Florida case insisted that not buying health insurance was somehow different from a failure to buy other products like clothes or food. They said health insurance was "unique" because, eventually, everyone will seek and obtain health care. And if they aren't insured, the costs will be shifted onto others, thus substantially affecting commerce.

Judge Vinson rejected this argument, recognizing that "not consuming" other products, such as food, is also unavoidable and can have substantial effects on other commercial markets. "There is quite literally no decision that, in the natural course of events, does not have an economic impact of some sort," he wrote. "The decisions of whether and when (or not) to buy a house, a car, a television, a dinner, or even a morning cup of coffee also have a financial impact that -- when aggregated with similar economic decisions -- affect the price of that particular product or service and have a substantial effect on interstate commerce."

Read the entire piece ...

As Barnett and Foley go on to note, the Obama administration attempted to cloak an unprecedented and unsupportable exercise of federal power in the guise of a run-of-the-mill Commerce Clause regulation ... and when the weakness of that theory was exposed, it retreated to the Necessary and Proper Clause and the taxing power. Judge Vinson's decisive rejection of all these theories is another significant victory for individual liberty -- the ultimate purpose of federalism -- and it lays the intellectual groundwork for every decision on the mandate yet to come.

Needless to say, Judge Vinson's decision seems to leave the Obama administration with quite a hill to climb ... and that's a good thing for individual liberty in America.

Related reading: Judge Vinson's Madisonian Vision vs. ObamaCare (The decision itself, as Judge Vinson points out, is not really about our health-care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, he writes, and "it raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government.")
For NYT, Originalism Is 'Political Bias,' ThinkProgress Blogger a 'Health Policy Analyst'

Posted by Richard at February 2, 2011 11:13 AM



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