Federal judge rules health care reform unconstitutional

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January 31, 2011

PENSACOLA, Florida: As had been anticipated earlier this morning, Federal Judge Clyde Roger Vinson has delivered his decision on the controversial health care reform measure heralded by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats early last year. Initially filed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and nineteen other state attorneys general minutes after the President signed the thousand-plus page bill into law on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010, the case has grown in the wake of the tumultuous midterm elections with six more states, among them Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, joining in challenging the constitutionality of the federal law.

Federal Judge Clyde Roger Vinson ruled the federal health care reform measure unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

In his opening, Justice Vinson strongly emphasized that this case was 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," but rather that the focus should be placed on if it is a reflection of our nation's federalist system and "the Constitutional role of the federal government."[1]

On the issue of the "individual mandate," a provision of the Affordable Patient Protection Act of 2009 that requires all individuals to purchase health care coverage, Vinson argued 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 the federal government was given such extensive power that it would not be a stretch to suggest that "Congress could do almost anything it wanted."[1] He dismissed the federal government's defense of placing the legislation within the boundaries of the Commerce Clause, arguing that the uninsured "are actively engaged in interstate commerce based on the purported “unique” features of the much broader health care market," contending that if Congress asserts power that exceeds the authority granted to it by the Constitution, then it is unconstitutional, "regardless of the purported uniqueness of the context in which it is being asserted."[1] Since "activity," Vinson's decision reads, "is required under the Commerce Clause," the "individual mandate," which punishes those who refuse to purchase health insurance, exceeds Congressional powers under the constitutional provision.

With this mind, there remains the question of "severability," a provision of a contract that allows for the remainder of the contract to still apply even if parts of it are held to be either illegal or unenforceable. However, no such provision exists within the Affordable Patient Protection Act, although an earlier version of the bill did include one. Analysts have insisted that since the "individual mandate" "collects most of the money that is supposed to flow into the system from millions of additional participants," the loss of this portion of the law makes its execution "severely compromised and could rock the foundation of other provisions in the legislation."[2] Congress itself has even admitted as much, arguing that the mandate was "essential" to carrying out the goals of the law. In comparing the health care law to a finely crafted watch, Vinson stated that there were "simply too many moving parts in the Act and too many provisions dependent (directly and indirectly) on the individual mandate" to make severability logistically possible.[1]

In conclusion, Vinson ruled that since "the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit," the entire law must be declared void.[1]

Click here to read Judge Vinson's entire decision

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