Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Florida Judge v. Healthcare Law

From Brian Beutler at TPM:

A federal district court judge in Florida ruled today that a key provision in the new health care law is unconstitutional, and that the entire law must be voided.

Roger Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee, agreed with the 26 state-government plaintiffs that Congress exceeded its authority by passing a law penalizing individuals who do not have health insurance.

“I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson writes. “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.”

This is by no means the last word on this story. The next step will be the Supreme Court, which is already beginning to send out a few signals as to where at least two justices stand on the Commerce Clause. Not surprisingly, the White House has their own dissenting opinion on the ruling.

Inserting the usual caveats about not being a lawyer here, it seems to me that if the courts can rule that it’s unconstitutional to mandate buying insurance from a private company, the same would hold true about being required to buy medical insurance from the government, i.e. Medicare, or pay into a pension fund, i.e. Social Security. Yet those have withstood court challenges for nearly eighty years, as have other laws that use the Commerce Clause such as civil rights laws and the minimum wage. (The argument that the states require you to have car insurance only goes so far; the state does not require you to own a car.)

Judge Vinson’s ruling sounded a bit like something out of the Tea Party manifesto, which also raises the ironic point that it’s the people in the Tea Party who rail against judicial activism — “legislating from the bench.” Striking down an entire bill because of one part, with or without the severability clause, seems like judicial activism on crack.

Of course, it’s only judicial activism when they rule against you or hand down a decision that you don’t like. That’s why, if you’re a tea partier, the ruling in favor of marriage equality in Iowa is an assault on the Constitution while Citizens United is not.

It’s worth noting that Judge Vinson did not grant the plaintiff’s motion for an injunction of the law. That means it can still go forward while it’s being appealed to the Supreme Court. As Ezra Klein notes, that may have been the point of Judge Vinson’s ruling: make it easier for the high court to overturn just parts of the law while leaving the rest intact. Stay tuned.