Vinson: UNCONSTITUTIONAL and UNSEVERABLE
By Hadley Heath
The 26 plaintiff states in Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services got a favorable ruling today from Judge Roger Vinson in the Northern District of Florida.
Vinson has ruled that the "individual mandate" is unconstitutional and cannot be severed from the rest of the law. Therefore, his ruling states that the entire health care law should be struck down.
There's no doubt that this ruling will be challenged by the federal government. This ruling, along with Henry Hudson's ruling in the Virginia case, have garnered great attention because they involve states as plaintiffs, and they have both favored the states. Today's ruling goes further, however, because it states that the entire law should be struck down. I've written before about how the lack of a "Severability Clause" was a severe mistake for ObamaCare.
The ruling raises this question: If Vinson ruled that the law is unconstitutional, why didn't he issue an injunction against it? The answer lies 75 pages into his decision, where he discusses a general presumption from precedent that would indicate that government officials "will adhere to the law as declared by the court." He wrote. "There is no reason to conclude that this presumption should not apply here. Thus, the award of declaratory relief is adequate and separate injunctive relief is not necessary."
The individual mandate does not take effect until 2014. It is generally agreed that this case (or a similar case, like the one filed by the Commonwealth of Virginia) will reach the Supreme Court before then (where a final decision on the law's constitutionality will be made).
Reactions from legal scholars are coming in. Here's what they have to say:
Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute, Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review:
Today's ruling vindicates the constitutional first principle that ours is a government of delegated, enumerated, and therefore limited powers. Like Judge Hudson in the Virginia case, Judge Vinson recognized that the individual mandate represents an unprecedented and improper incursion beyond those powers: the federal government, under the guise of regulating commerce, cannot require that people engage in economic activity.
And this is as it should be: if the only limit on congressional power were Congress's own assessment of the wisdom of each assertion of such power, the Constitution would be obsolete -- as would any conception of checks and balances. James Madison, the author of the Federalist Paper (51) explaining how man's non-angelic nature requires explicit limits on those who govern, would spin in his grave. As even would Alexander Hamilton -- perhaps the Framer most favorably disposed to strong central power -- who cautioned that courts should not be in the business of evaluating the "more or less necessity" of a piece of legislation but rather define judicially administrable rules to guide (but also limit) Congress's actions.
And so today's ruling, in a lawsuit that now has 26 states as plaintiffs -- with two others challenging the health care "reform" separately -- represents the latest and most significant victory for federalism and individual liberty. This will not end until the Supreme Court has its say, but the tide is clearly running in freedom's favor.
Ilya Somin, Associate Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law:
Today's ruling underscores the weaknesses in the constitutional justifications offered for the individual mandate. Quite simply, the mandate cannot be upheld without giving Congress a blank check to force Americans to purchase virtually anything it wants.
It is also noteworthy that this suit includes 26 state governments challenging the constitutionality of the mandate. In all, 28 states are involved in litigation against it. This is the first time in American history that so many states have challenged the constitutionality of an important federal law.
Stephen B. Presser, Professor of Legal History, Northwestern University School of Law:
It is surely significant that more than half the states had joined in this lawsuit, believing that the federal government, in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, went far beyond what the Constitution permits. With Judge Vinson's clear determination that ours is still a federal government of limited and enumerated powers, those states are vindicated, as are those of us who have spent our professional careers believing in the rule of law and believing that the Constitution is not an infinitely plastic document. James Madison and the other framers who believed in a delicate balance between state and federal sovereignty, and who recognized the dangers of overweening centralized power have had their legacy renewed by this courageous, sensible, and honest jurist.
James W. Ely Jr., Milton R. Underwood Professor of Law, emeritus, Vanderbilt University:
In a highly significant opinion, a federal district court in Florida has invalidated the entire health care law. In a compelling and thoughtful opinion the court concluded that the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a penalty exceeded congressional power to regulate commerce between the states. It held that a decision not to purchase health insurance was not an economic activity that could be governed by Congress. Otherwise, the court pointed out, there would be no limit to the power of Congress over human decisions. The individual mandate was simply unprecedented. Never before has Congress required people to buy a product or service. The court agreed that there is a need to improve the health care system, but reminded us that even laudable goals must be achieved within constitutional limits.
Stay tuned for more reactions!