Blog | Tuesday, February 1, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Another judge rules health reform is unconstitutional

A U.S. district court judge ruled that Congress overstepped its Constitutional role in creating an individual mandate as part of health care reform.

The case involved 26 state governors or attorneys general who'd filed suit against the federal government to overturn health care reform. This latest decision results in two district courts having ruled that health care reform is constitutional and two courts ruling that it isn't.

Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson's decision cites heavily from The Federalist Papers and other writings of the Founding Fathers. It begins, "I emphasized once before, but it bears repeating again: this case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation, or whether it will solve or exacerbate the myriad problems in our health care system. In fact, it is not really about our health care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, and it raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government."

At issue is Congress' powers to regulate interstate commerce, the judge decided, and that it overstepped its role when it began to regulate not only commerce but the end consumers choices not to engage in commerce. "Because the plaintiffs maintain that an individual’s failure to purchase health insurance is, almost by definition, “inactivity,” the individual mandate goes beyond the Commerce Clause and is unconstitutional," states the decision.

The judge points out that the Commerce Clause's definition has been expanded over the years, from its originally application to eliminate trade barriers by and between the states to later encompass covering actual interstate to intrastate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce and even the mere consumption of a product even when there is no interstate commerce involved. "To now hold that Congress may regulate the so-called 'economic decision' to not purchase a product or service in anticipation of future consumption is a 'bridge too far.' It is without logical limitation and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent."

And, because the individual mandate to buy insurance cannot be separated from the rest of health care reform, the entire piece of legislation must be overturned.

"That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system," the decision concludes. "The health care market is more than one-sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here."

The law will remain in effect as it works its way through the appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The White House issued its response, pointing out that 12 other judges have dismissed contitutional challenges to the law.

"Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are actively making an economic decision that impacts all of us," according to the statement. "People who make an economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market. As Congress found, every year millions of people without insurance obtain health care they cannot pay for, shifting tens of billions of dollars in added cost onto those who have insurance and onto taxpayers. There can be no doubt that this activity substantially affects interstate commerce, and Congress has the power to regulate it."