Breaking: Federal judge rules ObamaCare mandate unconstitutional; Update: Bill argues Congressional power without “logical limitation”

posted at 12:16 pm on December 13, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

CNN has a breaking alert on a ruling by a federal judge in Virginia that rejects ObamaCare as unconstitutional:

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled parts of the sweeping health care reform effort led by President Obama to be unconstitutional. This is the first federal court to strike down the law, contradicting other recent rulings the law was permissible. The key issue of contention was the “individual mandate” requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance by 2014.

This case (Virginia v Sebelius) was the lawsuit brought by the states against ObamaCare.  This is the test case that had the best chance of overturning the law, and the states have apparently won an important finding in the district court.

According to Dan Foster at NRO, the judge ruled that Congress “exceeded its authority” by imposing an individual mandate to purchase insurance.

Update: Actually, this suit was brought by Virginia alone.  The other case brought by 20 other states in one suit is still pending.

Update II: Still waiting for more data from the opinion, but several commenters have mentioned the lack of a severability clause in ObamaCare to argue that this decision would invalidate the entire bill.  Not so fast, wrote David Catron at American Spectator last week:

This is probably why the White House has made so much of recent rulings by U.S. District Judges George Steeh and Norman Moon, Clinton appointees who dismissed relatively inconsequential anti-PPACA lawsuits. The administration knows, of course, that the Virginia case presents a far more serious threat than either of these cases. It has already survived a motion to dismiss and it was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the famous “rocket docket” from which important cases are expeditiously launched to the U.S. Court of Appeals and beyond. As Judge Hudson put it during the October hearing, “[T]his is only one brief stop on the way to the United States Supreme Court.” Nonetheless, if he rules in favor of Virginia, the administration will no doubt claim it is ahead two-to-one.

The jumpiness of the White House notwithstanding, it is not a given that Judge Hudson will strike down the entire law. He has shown skepticism about the mandate, but that issue is relatively straightforward compared to the severability question. On the mandate, he can follow the example of Judges Steeh and Moon, who held that the decision notto engage in economic activity somehow constitutes “commerce” as the word is used in the Constitution, or he can rule that such reasoning does too much violence to the intent of the founders. On severability, Hudson’s choices are more numerous and the legal precedents are less auspicious. In fact, the Supreme Court recently invalidated an important part of the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting law, which contains no severability clause, while leaving the rest of its provisions in place.

It’s also a given that the Supreme Court will wind up deciding this, so any talk of severability at this point is academic.

Update III: Fox News is now reporting that Judge Hudson won’t issue an injunction against the entire ObamaCare law, which means that he’s seeing a de facto severability in it.  Without the mandate, though, the system won’t work at all, which gives Congress a big opening to dismantle the rest.

Update IV: Gabe Malor has begun perusing the opinion and finds the heart of Hudson’s decision on page 24:

Judge Hudson (pg 24): mandate “exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I”

Hudson also rejected the administration’s argument that this was permissible under taxation authority by noting that the administration had publicly disputed that it was a tax, and Congress had rejected that argument as well when passing the bill (pages 33-36).   Instead, Hudson found it to be a “penalty,” and unconnected to any enumerated power (page 36).

Update V: Hudson hits the nail on the head with this:

Hudson rejected the government’s argument that it has the power under the Constitution to require individuals to buy health insurance, a provision that was set to take effect in 2014.

“Of course, the same reasoning could apply to transportation, housing or nutritional decisions,” Hudson wrote. “This broad definition of the economic activity subject to congressional regulation lacks logical limitation” and is unsupported by previous legal cases around the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Hudson — perhaps not inadvertently — just described the progressive agenda in a single sentence, and why the Constitution forbids it.

Stand by — more to come….


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