Judge in 20-state ObamaCare case expresses skepticism over mandate
posted at 3:35 pm on December 17, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
If the White House hoped for a better outcome from the 20-state lawsuit over ObamaCare in Florida than it got this week from the federal court in Virginia, early observations from the arguments may dash those hopes. The Wall Street Journal reports that Judge Roger Vinson expressed considerable skepticism about the argument from the states that ObamaCare represents an overreach of federal authority by mandating expanded coverage through Medicaid, a program from which Vinson noted states could withdraw, at least legally. However, Vinson called the individual mandate “a great leap” on the notion of economic activity that falls within the Commerce Clause’s parameters:
A federal judge in a 20-state lawsuit against the Obama administration’s health overhaul signaled Thursday he is sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ argument that requiring Americans to carry health insurance violates the Constitution.
But Judge Roger Vinson seemed skeptical of the second plank of the states’ suit: that the law forces states into a costly expansion of their Medicaid insurance programs for the poor. …
Judge Vinson, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, signaled he saw the requirement as unprecedented and a potential imposition on Americans’ individual liberties. The case is one of some two dozen federal lawsuits that are ultimately expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.
“It would be a giant leap for the Supreme Court to say that a decision to buy or not to buy is tantamount to activity,” Judge Vinson told the court. … “If they decide that everyone needs to eat broccoli,” then the commerce clause could allow Congress to require everyone to buy a certain quantity of broccoli, the judge said.
The Department of Justice attorney representing the Obama administration argued that the food argument wasn’t relevant because at some point in time, everyone buys health care services. Everyone buys food, too, and this particular argument is not only relevant but also linked. Since diet is a part of health maintenance, setting this kind of precedent not only allows the federal government to issue a must-purchase order of broccoli (or vegetables in general), it will almost certainly result in the issuance of such mandates — followed by the inevitable subsidies. And as with the nanny-state ObamaCare bill, food-police advocates will insist that they are doing it to save public funds wasted on Americans who insist on making occasional unhealthy choices in food.
Note that Vinson, like Hudson, has his appointment pedigree noted, although the WSJ also notes that two other judges who have dismissed claims in other ObamaCare cases were appointed by Democrats. Vinson’s Reagan appointment doesn’t necessarily make him a rock-ribbed conservative, at least not in the social sense of the movement. In 1988, Vinson struck down a Florida county ordinance that banned the film The Last Temptation of Christ, which received overwhelming criticism for Martin Scorsese’s take on the life of Jesus and his experiences with temptation, which runs far afield from the Gospels, as well as portraying Jesus as a Roman collaborator.
Vinson appears to have a strong sense of individual liberty and defense of such against government intrusion, which is good news for the plaintiffs in this case. Interestingly, though, Vinson also serves on the FISA Court and has since 2006. Obviously, those decisions don’t get made public in most circumstances, but his presence there may make it a little more difficult for critics on either side to attack Vinson personally for his eventual ruling. That may be especially true for the administration, which will have to deal directly with Vinson for the next three years (or at least the next two) on national-security requests.