Federal District Court Judge Rules Obamacare Unconstitutional

19 February 2011 |

Two weeks ago, Roger Vinson, a federal district court judge in Florida, struck down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” as unconstitutional. Ruling on a lawsuit brought against the Department of Health and Human Services by more than half of the states (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), Judge Vinson declared that the provision that requires individuals to purchase private health insurance violates the “enumerated” powers clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Obama administration had argued that the “individual mandate” contained in the unpopular national health care insurance law passed constitutional muster via the “Commerce Clause” of the Constitution. Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services argued that an individual’s decision to forego the purchase of health insurance was an economic decision of the sort that Congress was empowered to regulate. Judge Vinson disagreed. He declared that the federal government’s argument turned the whole idea of economic  “activity” upside down:

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.

Fearing just such an outcome, the lawyers defending Obamacare also argue that Congress was empowered by the “Necessary and Proper” clause of the U.S. Constitution to mandate the purchase of private health insurance. Judge Vinson rejected that argument as well. His logic in this part of the case fascinated me as a health insurance professional. I will explain more in my next post.