Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is the individual mandate constitutional? It's now 2 and 2

Yesterday, in State of Florida v. US Dept. of HHS, Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the individual mandate of the PPACA is unconstitutional, AND since, as supporters of the law have repeatedly argued, the mandate is "absolutely 'essential' to the Act's overarching goal of expanding the availability of affordable health insurance coverage" the mandate is not severable. This means the entire law must be struck down.

Three other court cases have ruled on whether or not the individual mandate exceeds Congress' power under the Commerce Clause: Liberty University, Inc. v. Geithner and Thomas More Law Center v. Obama , and Virginia v. Sebelius. The first two ruled that the mandate does fall within the power of the Commerce Clause and thus is constitutional. Virginia v. Sebelius and Florida v. HHS ruled the mandate unconstitutional.

I strongly recommend reading the entire 78 pages of Judge Vinson's ruling. It is well organized, and written in easily understood plain language. Vinson explicitly (and correctly) recognizes that this legal case is not about "whether the [PPACA] is wise or unwise legislation" or "really about our health care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, and it raises very important issues regarding the constitutional role of the federal government."

As part of his opinion, Vinson provides an excellent summary of the evolution of judicial interpretation of the Commerce Clause, beginning with its original purpose "to give Congress power to regulate commerce so that it could eliminate the trade restrictions and barriers by and between the states that had existed under the Articles of Confederation." Since so much will rest on the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Commerce Clause, it will behoove all concerned citizens to familiarize themselves with the relevant landmark cases, in particular Gibbons v. Ogden, Schechter Poultry v. U.S., Wickard v. Filburn, U.S. v. Lopez and Gonzales v. Raich. Vinson's opinion will give you a good start.

Vinson also refers us to the Reason TV video clip below: "Wheat, Weed and Obamacare: How the Commerce Clause Made congress All-Powerful."

Is there a limit to Congress' power to regulate private activity, and even inactivity?

Far more than health care hangs in the balance.


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