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The Unconstitutionality of ObamaCare in Black and White

Key excerpts from Judge Vinson's historic ruling.

by
Jeffrey H. Anderson

Bio

January 31, 2011 - 4:10 pm

United States District Court Judge Roger Vinson has ruled that ObamaCare’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that, since removal of the mandate would make ObamaCare a fundamentally different act than the one that Congress passed, its removal must invalidate the entire 2,700-page overhaul.

In a case brought by 26 states arguing that ObamaCare is unconstitutional, Judge Vinson ruled that the individual mandate — ObamaCare’s requirement that every American must buy federally approved health insurance — exceeds the scope of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, and is thereby unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson writes that “the defendants [the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, among others] have conceded that the Act’s health insurance reforms cannot survive without the individual mandate, which is extremely significant because the various insurance provisions, in turn, are the very heart of the Act itself.”  Therefore, Vinson writes,

I must conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit.

This marks the first time that a federal judge has ruled that ObamaCare as a whole is invalid.

The judge took care to emphasize that “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.” Rather, he said, the case is about whether Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce also empowers it to compel commerce.  Judge Vinson ruled that it does not, saying that to declare otherwise would extend the commerce power beyond the the plain and historically understood limits of that power and beyond the limits that the Supreme Court has previous sanctioned.

The Obama administration will now appeal the case, which was brought by Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Here are some key excerpts from Judge Vinson’s 78-page opinion:

[T]his 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….

Never before has Congress required that everyone buy a product from a private company…just for being alive and residing in the United States….

It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause. If it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the Act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce”…, it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. 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….

I conclude that the individual mandate seeks to regulate economic inactivity, which is the very opposite of economic activity. And because activity is required under the Commerce Clause, the individual mandate exceeds Congress’ commerce power, as it is understood, defined, and applied in the existing Supreme Court case law….

The Necessary and Proper Clause cannot be utilized to “pass laws for the accomplishment of objects” that are not within Congress’ enumerated powers….

Having determined that the individual mandate exceeds Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause, and cannot be saved by application of the Necessary and Proper Clause, the next question is whether it is severable from the remainder of the Act….

[T]here are two specific facts that are particularly telling in this respect.

First, the Act does not contain a “severability clause,” which is commonly included in legislation to provide that if any part or provision is held invalid, then the rest of the statute will not be affected….

The lack of a severability clause in this case is significant because one had been included in an earlier version of the Act, but it was removed in the bill that subsequently became law….

Moreover, the defendants have conceded that the Act’s health insurance reforms cannot survive without the individual mandate, which is extremely significant because the various insurance provisions, in turn, are the very heart of the Act itself. The health insurance reform provisions were cited repeatedly during the health care debate, and they were instrumental in passing the Act. In speech after speech President Obama emphasized that the legislative goal was “health insurance reform” and stressed how important it was that Congress fundamentally reform how health insurance companies do business, and “protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.” See, for example, Remarks of President Obama, The State of the Union, delivered Jan. 27, 2009. Meanwhile, the Act’s supporters in the Senate and House similarly spoke repeatedly and often of the legislative efforts as being the means to comprehensively reform the health insurance industry….

In other words, the individual mandate is indisputably necessary to the Act’s insurance market reforms, which are, in turn, indisputably necessary to the purpose of the Act….

I must [therefore] conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit. The individual mandate cannot be severed….

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void….

Jeffrey H. Anderson, an independent writer, was the senior speechwriter for Secretary Mike Leavitt at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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