Obamacare ruled unconstitutional

NY Times:

A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that requires Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at two-to-two in the lower courts as conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.

Like a Virginia judge in December, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., said he would allow the law to remain in effect while the Obama administration appeals his ruling, a process that could take two years. But unlike his Virginia counterpart, Judge Vinson ruled that the entire health care act should fall if the appellate courts join him in invalidating the insurance requirement.

“The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker,” Judge Vinson wrote.

In a 78-page opinion, Judge Vinson held that the insurance requirement exceeds the regulatory powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Judge Vinson wrote that the provision could not be rescued by an associated clause in Article I that gives Congress broad authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its designated responsibilities.

“If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain,” Judge Vinson wrote.

In a silver lining for the Obama administration, the judge rejected a second claim that the new law violates state sovereignty by requiring states to pay for a fractional share of a Medicaid expansion that is scheduled for 2014.

The Times goes on to suggest that the ruling has a partisan flavor since the contesting parties are almost all Republicans and the judge is a Republican. This was certainly the divide in Congress where no Republican voted for the partisan bill.

One aspect of the bill that I commented on earlier is the lack of what lawyers call a "savings clause" which basically says if part of the bill is found to be invalid the remainder can stay in effect. Judge Vinson takes advantage of that to wipe out the entire act.

Curiously, the Medicaid portion of the bill must remain in tact since he tells the states they must eat the unfunded mandates if they are going to use Medicaid. If the whole act is invalid, it is hard to see why the expansion of Medicaid should survive. I may have to read the opinion to figure that out.


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