WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Florida today ruled the entire health care overhaul law must be tossed out, the furthest-reaching opinion against the new law issued so far. The ruling by District Judge Roger Vinson held that the individual insurance purchase mandate is unconstitutional, and since it’s so intricate to the law as a whole, the entire law has to be thrown out.
Read the full ruling here.
“At issue here, as in the other cases decided so far, is the assertion that the Commerce Clause can only reach individuals and entities engaged in an ‘activity’;and because the plaintiffs maintain that an individual’s failure to purchase healthinsurance is, almost by definition, ‘inactivity,’ the individual mandate goes beyondthe Commere Clause and is unconstitutional.”
The ruling split politicos on predictable lines.
“Today’s court ruling correctly affirms that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress’s health care takeover violates the U.S. Constitution,” former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement. “An individual health-care mandate is an unconstitutional power grab by the Federal government and drags our health care system in the wrong direction. This ruling is a big victory for states’ rights, the U.S. Constitution and market-based health care reform. I was proud to join this federal lawsuit challenging Obamacare’s individual mandate and am optimistic that higher courts will uphold the ruling.”
“The individual mandate is just one example of how the law simply goes too far, which is one of many reasons I led the charge to repeal this law,” agreed Rep. John Kline, head of the Education and the Workforce Committee.
Families USA President Ron Pollack blasted the ruling, taking particular aim at Vinson’s ruling the entire thing unconstitutional.
“Judge Vinson’s decision is radical judicial activism run amok, and it will undoubtedly be reversed on appeal. The decision flies in the face of three other decisions, contradicts decades of legal precedent, and could jeopardize families’ health care security,” Pollack said.
“If this decision were allowed to stand, it would have devastating consequences for America’s families. Children with pre-existing conditions would once again be denied access to health care; insurers could take away health coverage and reinstate lifetime limits on coverage; small businesses would once again be priced out of the market; and seniors would lose their access to no-cost preventive services and help with the cost of prescription drugs.”
Unlike most complex legislation, the health care law did not include a severability clause that specifies that one unconstitutional part should not be read to disqualify another constitutional part of the same statute.
In Vinson’s eyes, “the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must standor fall as a single unit. The individual mandate cannot be severed.” Thus, he reasoned, if the choice is all or nothing, and all is partly unconstitutional, it must be nothing.
Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee, is one of several judges who have heard appeals to the health care law and almost certainly not the last voice on the matter. Another judge in Virginia ruled similarly, though he decided against removing all of the law, while at least two separate judges have ruled the law constitutional or dismissed challenges to it.
Instead, the law seems destined for the Supreme Court, and at that point it’s anybody’s guess.
An interesting side point: Vinson’s logic, as I read it, is not just that the federal government can’t require an insurance mandate, but rather that the institution of government can’t do that. One can easily see his argument cut and pasted into cases targeting mandatory car insurance rules, for example, and I’d be interested to see the sort of briefs a creative attorney could write up on that.