Health Care Reform Struck Down in Florida

What Women Really Think
Jan. 31 2011 4:45 PM

Health Care Reform Struck Down in Florida

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Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

Florida District Judge Roger Vinson, just became the second federal district court judge to find President Obama’s sweeping health care law unconstitutional. Here’s the opinion . Vinson, ruling on behalf of the 26 state attorneys general or governors, found that the Congress had "exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate."  And then Vinson went one better than Virginia Judge Henry Hudson by determining that the unconstitutional provision was not severable from the bill in its entirety, and that the entire law is thus unconstitutional.

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With references to James Madison and the need to curb federal powers, Vinson quotes Supreme Court precedent for the argument that "the principle behind a central government with limited power has "never been more relevant than in this day, when accretion, if not actual accession, of power to the federal government seems not only unavoidable, but even expedient." Vinson determines that the plaintiffs could not prevail on their spending clause and coercion theories, then turns to the individual mandate. He finds that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the individual mandate, then turns to the question of whether the mandate is a constitutional exercise of power under the commerce clause. With a long, long walk down commerce clause history lane, Vinson pauses ominously to note that "everything changed in 1937, beginning with the first of three significant New Deal cases and a time of expansive reading of the Commerce clause.

Toggling back and forth between the various federalism revolution cases of the 1990s, Vinson then concludes that what Congress requires here is unprecedented; that "never before has Congress required that everyone buy a product from a private company (essentially for life) just for being alive and residing in the United States." He finds that "it would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause" and that "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 for it would be "difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power and we would have a Constitution in name only." Citing Erwin Chemerinsky appearing on Reason TV to reject the argument that there is a unique health care market, Vinson concludes that the economic decision to forgo participation in the health care market is not "activity" for commerce clause purposes, warning, with proper citations, that "everything could be said to affect interstate commerce in the same sense in which a butterfly flapping its wings in China might bring about a change of weather in New York."

Vinson concludes with a warning that the Necessary and Proper clause not be transformed into a "hideous monster [with] devouring jaws" (Hamilton), and determines that the unconstitutional section of the Act cannot be severed from the rest of it. Vinson points out that " going through the 2,700-page Act line-by-line, invalidating dozens (or hundreds) of some sections while retaining dozens (or hundreds) of others, would not only take considerable time and extensive briefing, but it would, in the end, be tantamount to rewriting a statute in an attempt to salvage it"

Vinson makes the decision not to grant the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and sends them on their way.  Let the wild rumpusing begin.

Judge’s gavel by Stockbyte/Thinkstock Images.