Federal District Judge Roger Vinson declared the healthcare law unconstitutional today, setting the stage for a likely showdown in the Supreme Court. From the NYT:
In a 78-page opinion, Judge Vinson held that the insurance requirement exceeds the regulatory powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Judge Vinson wrote that the provision could not be rescued by an associated clause in Article I that gives Congress broad authority to make laws “necessary and proper” to carrying out its designated responsibilities.
I believe this decision can be understood, in part, by an aspect of Judge Vinson’s earlier decision in this case, that I covered earlier at OB&B, that Congress could not use the taxation clause in the Constitution to penalize citizens for not engaging in commerce. Today’s decision continues:
“If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain,” Judge Vinson wrote.
In his decision, Judge Vinson wrote: “It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause.” If Congress has such power, he continued, “it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.”
I think it’s very likely this decision will stand. The Framers were very particular in dictating the specific powers delegated to Congress. Their work and insight at restraining Congress would indeed be in vain if this law is allowed to stand. I believe Washington is going to have to go back to the drawing board for healthcare reform, which we do actually need, but Vinson is right when he points out the slippery slope this law would create.