(from The American, February 2, 2011)
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s thorough and well-reasoned opinion granting summary judgment to plaintiffs in Florida, et. al v. Department of Health and Human Services, changes the landscape over which the merits of ObamaCare will now be debated. As the judge said, the lawsuit is not about whether healthcare reform is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether Congress has the constitutional authority to require nearly every American to obtain and maintain healthcare insurance. This healthcare insurance “mandate” is at the core of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and it is that requirement the court determined to be unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress’s enumerated powers.
In particular, the court rejected the administration’s claims that the simple failure to have healthcare insurance as prescribed by Congress is a form of economic “activity” that Congress can reach under its power to regulate interstate commerce. The court agreed that, if the commerce power were interpreted so broadly that Congress could reach the failure to act, simply because that failure may have an economic impact at some level, then there would be no effective limit on congressional/federal power.
This, of course, was not the purpose or intent of the Constitution’s framers, and upholding the exercise of such a power would be fundamentally inconsistent with the federalist system they adopted. As a result, the court struck down the individual mandate and, because that central provision cannot be severed from the rest of the PPACA, the entire Act has fallen.
There will obviously be appeals, and ultimately it will be the Supreme Court that settles the issue. For the time being, however, the federal government cannot enforce the PPACA against any of the 26 states who are parties to this lawsuit, or against the individuals and the National Federation of Independent Business, who are also plaintiffs in this case. Our task will now be to defend Judge Vinson’s excellent decision through the appeals process.
David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey are partners in the Washington, D.C., office of Baker Hostetler LLP and are the lead outside counsel in the Florida litigation for the 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.