The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

The elephant in the courtroom

Those who still believe in our Constitution’s restraints on federal power were rightly delighted by Friday’s 11th Circuit decision striking down the individual mandate in Obama’s health care law. The part of the opinion that deals with the individual mandate is masterful and exhaustive, running to some 89 pages.

But the constitutionality of the individual mandate wasn’t the only issue on appeal before the court. There was another important constitutional issue: whether the federal government can require states to expand their Medicaid programs as a condition of continuing to receive federal Medicaid funds. Here the court gave short shrift, a perfunctory treatment of only 14 pages that it could have copied from any constitutional law textbook. That’s too bad, because the Medicaid issue is at least as vital to the preservation of constitutional government as the individual mandate issue.

In the trial court below, Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the law’s Medicaid provisions are constitutional. The court of appeals affirmed his ruling but totally ignored his provocative reasoning.

The federal government sends huge amounts of money to the states — but imposes strict conditions on that money. This way, the federal government can pressure states into doing things (such as raise their drinking ages to 21) that it could not constitutionally require them to do. In South Dakota v. Dole (1987), the Supreme Court said that the penalty of losing federal funds “might be so coercive as to pass the point at which pressure turns into compulsion,” which is unconstitutional. The Court insisted that compliance with federal conditions must remain “the prerogative of the States not merely in theory but in fact.”

Judge Vinson observed that federal courts routinely pay lip service to Dole’s coercion doctrine but have never in practice found coercion in any case, no matter how onerous the conditions. So he concluded that the plaintiffs’ coercion claim could not succeed “and that the defendants are entitled judgment as a matter of law.”

Now think about that. The 26 states suing to stop Obamacare argued that they simply could not afford the loss of Medicaid funds, so compliance is in no sense voluntary — a violation of Dole. The government countered with evidence that in fact the penalty is less onerous than claimed. And yet, Judge Vinson ruled that there was no issue of material fact, and the government was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This was a remarkable ruling at the summary judgment stage — before a trial on the facts. Dole plainly requires a factual inquiry into whether federal conditions “pass the point at which pressure turns into compulsion”; compliance must remain a state prerogative “not merely in theory but in fact.” There was at least an issue of material fact as to whether the Medicaid expansion provisions are so onerous that states can’t afford to opt out. The 11th Circuit should at least have reversed that summary judgment and returned the case to Judge Vinson for a trial on the facts.

  • Anonymous

    “Hopefully, federal courts are reasserting themselves as guardians of the Constitution, but if so, it’s happening more than 70 years too late. Much has been done that needs to be undone if we are to stop the federal government’s relentless accumulation of power.”
    They will either do it or reign over the destruction of the nation. The tortured reasonings springing out of depression era court rulings, continuing to this day, that elevate precedent and case law above textualism combined with originalism have to be acknowledges as not simply tortured but wrong and overturned.
    The acceptance of tortured reasoning if it comes from the Supreme Court is how and why Obama can say Obamacare is constitutional with a straight face.

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  • Jan

    Obama needs to be removed from office along with all of his friends.  then we need to get rid of every bill, law, etc. put into place since 2008 and go back to where we were then and proceed from there. 
    These 2,000 bills were designed to live long after Obama leaves office.

  • Jan

    Obama needs to be removed from office along with all of his friends.  then we need to get rid of every bill, law, etc. put into place since 2008 and go back to where we were then and proceed from there. 
    These 2,000 bills were designed to live long after Obama leaves office.

  • Restore The 10th

    The real answer is to limit federal spending to 9% of GDP, cut of federal money to the states, and allow the states to collect an 9-10% of GSP (gross state product) to finance activities within the states. In other words get the drug ($) dealer (congress) out of the equation.