Second federal judge rules Obamacare unconstitutional
In a decision steeped in the words of the Founding Fathers, a federal judge has ruled for the second time the President Obama’s health-care law is unconstitutional and must be “declared void” in full.
Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida also warned in the ruling that Obamacare’s legal precedent could open the doors to virtually unlimited power by Congress.
The ruling says the “individual mandate,” which imposes a fine on individuals who do not purchase health insurance, is unconstitutional and not “severable” from the full law. Therefore, “the entire act must be declared void,” the ruling says.
Vinson argues the mandate is an “unprecedented” exercise of federal power because it regulates a lack of economic activity, not economic activity itself.
Vinson is the second federal judge to rule Obamacare unconstitutional after a federal district court judge in Virginia ruled the same late last year. Two other judges have upheld the law.
The Supreme Court is expected to have final say on the matter once the cases work their way up the court system.
Conservative critics of the health-care law quickly hailed the ruling.
“Judge Vinson rightly declared the healthcare law’s individual mandate unconstitutional, since the inactivity of not buying health insurance is not an “economic activity” that Congress has the power to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause,” said Hans Bader, a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and counsel to Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the case.
Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the Conservative Study Committee, the conservative caucus of House Republicans, said ‘“Even if you ignore that Obamacare will slow our economy and lead to massive budget deficits, you cannot ignore that it violates the supreme law of the land.”
The ruling itself is steeped in the words of the Founding Fathers, citing Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s writings in the Federalist Papers and quotes from Thomas Jefferson.
“This is an opinion by a judge who is steeped in the history and tradition of the Constitution. He is someone who has studied the framing of the Constitution and seriously considered the purposes of the Constitution. What he wrote is a work of scholarship,” said Andrew M. Grossman, an attorney at Baker Hostetler working on the health care litigation.
Vinson even mentions British policies on tea just before the American Revolution to question whether the Founding Fathers would have ever approved what Vinson says is such a far-reaching law.
“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place,” the ruling says.
Vinson warns the health-care law’s legal precedent could open the doors to virtually unlimited power by Congress.
“It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause. If it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce,” it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted,” the ruling says.
“The mere status of being without health insurance, in and of itself, has absolutely no impact whatsoever on interstate commerce (not ‘slight,’ ‘trivial,’ or ‘indirect,’ but no impact whatsoever) — at least not any more so than the status of being without any particular good or service,” the ruling says.
Generally, when courts strike down particular portion of laws, those laws are not rendered void in full. Rather, the particular portions are removed from the law.
Vinson argues in this case, the individual mandate is so critical to the design of the law that it cannot be struck down in isolation.
“If, however, the statute is viewed as a carefully balanced and clockwork-like statutory arrangement comprised of pieces that all work toward one primary legislative goal, and if that goal would be undermined if a central part of the legislation is found to be unconstitutional, then severability is not appropriate,” the ruling says, arguing that the individual mandate would indeed undermine the primary legislative goal of Obamacare.
The White House is holding a conference call with reporters at 4:45 p.m.