Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida has just ruled that the individual mandate in Obamacare, that all must purchase insurance or pay a penalty, is unconstitutional. This was the lawsuit brought by the State of Florida in which 25 other states joined. Given the comments by the court during oral argument last December, the ruling comes as no real surprise.
I have not had an opportunity to read the opinion, but, will update this post as soon as I do so.
Judge Vinson’s 78 page opinion not only declares the individual mandate unconstitutional, but also, under the legal concept of “severability”, declares the entire law unconstitutional.
First, on the individual mandate, the court spends a considerable amount of time analyzing not only the interstate commerce clause, but also the Supreme Court decisions interpreting Congress’s power under it. But, in finding that “activity” is an indispensable part of what Congress can regulate, the court stated, at page 42,
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 court then considered the question of whether the failure to purchase health insurance was in fact, an “activity” as contemplated by the interstate commerce clause. In holding that it was not, the court stated it found no difference between that, and, for example, the failure to purchase broccoli, or to purchase a GM car. (see page 46)
[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 anymore so than the status of being without any particular good or service. (emphasis in original, see page 50)
The court then declared all of Obamacare to be unconstitutional under the doctrine of “severability”. Severability clauses are common in legislation. They provide that “if any part of this law is found to be unconstitutional, then the rest of the law will survive.” Obamacare does not contain such a clause, although, as the court points out, original versions of Obamacare did. The absence of such a clause is not fatal, but the court did state that the government, in its argument, called the individual mandate “essential”, and Congress did as well. Refusing to go through all 2700 pages of Obamacare line by line to separate what is dependent upon the individual mandate and what is not, the court held, at page 73,
There are simply too many moving parts in the Act and too many provisions dependent (directly and indirectly) on the individual mandate and other health insurance provisions…for me to try and dissect proper from improper…
Thus, under Judge Vinson’s ruling the entire act is unconstitutional.
Of course, this decision will be appealed to the United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, I would guess, ultimately to the United States Supreme Court.