Don’t expect this to be the last stop for the train, but during the next stage of the court challenge process, the individual mandate in Obamacare (not the entire law) has been found unconstitutional.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a provision in President Obama’s health care law requiring citizens to buy health insurance is unconstitutional, but didn’t strike down the rest of the law.

The decision is a major setback for the White House, which had appealed a ruling by a federal district judge who struck down the entire law in January. But the case is clearly headed to the Supreme Court, which will have the final say.

On Friday, the divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with 26 states that filed a lawsuit to block Obama’s signature domestic initiative.The panel said that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring Americans to buy insurance or face penalties.

One comment of note from the majority declared the mandate to be, “a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority.” This is pretty much in line with most of the well fleshed out complaints we’ve seen since the suit was originally begun.

At United Liberty, George Scoville calls it a great day for liberty.

There are a couple of things of important note packed into this ruling:

  • Federalists won today. This is another victory for constitutionalism and those who believe that government is best which governs least — that the U.S. Constitution created a limited government with specific enumerated powers.
  • It is now more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case. While the high court’s docket has become hugely more selective in years past, the fact that the 11th Circuit and 6th Circuit are at odds with each other in their respective rulings increases the likelihood that SCOTUS will decide this issue.
  • The Court disappointed in its treatment of the non-severability issue. In fact, it overturned the lower court’s ruling, which held that, because the law lacked a severability clause, overturning any of the law’s provisions means necessarily an overturning of the entire law.

Forbes predicted something along these lines back in June, though at the time some progressive critics were referring to it as wishful thinking. But the fact that the entire law wasn’t struck down will come as cold comfort to Obamacare supporters. Without the mandate the entire thing pretty much collapses in on itself and nothing is left but a few trillion dollars in new taxes, fees, and… and…

Hey. Wait a minute.

Update (AP): The court’s website is overloaded so I can’t download the opinion — which is just as well, as it’s over 300 pages. But here’s a key bit excerpted by Philip Klein:

[T]he individual mandate contained in the Act exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power. This conclusion is limited in scope. The power that Congress has wielded via the Commerce Clause for the life of this country remains undiminished. Congress may regulate commercial actors. It may forbid certain commercial activity. It may enact hundreds of new laws and federally-funded programs, as it has elected to do in this massive 975- page Act. But what Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.

It cannot be denied that the individual mandate is an unprecedented exercise of congressional power. As the CBO observed, Congress “has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.” CBO MANDATE MEMO, supra p.115, at 1. Never before has Congress sought to regulate commerce by compelling non-market participants to enter into commerce so that Congress may regulate them. The statutory language of the mandate is not tied to health care consumption—past, present, or in the future. Rather, the mandate is to buy insurance now and forever. The individual mandate does not wait for market entry.

Elsewhere in the opinion, again via Klein, the court said the mandate “is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure.” In a word: Indeed. And the best part of today’s decision? One of the two judges in the majority was … a Clinton appointee. The unconstitutionality of the mandate is no longer a partisan position.

The worst part of the decision is the severability ruling. If the Supreme Court rules that way too, it’ll mean the rest of ObamaCare will remain intact and good law even after the mandate is nuked. Which, actually, is a perverse outcome: The whole reason the mandate’s there in the first place is so that insurers have a big new pool of premiums flowing in to help offset the costs they’ll incur from now having to cover people with preexisting conditions, etc. If that pool disappears, the whole arrangement becomes financially unstable. Congress would have to go back to the drawing board and either scale back the other parts of the law so that it can function without a mandate or nuke the law in its entirety.

Update (AP): Another killer quote from the opinion via Politico. Philosophically, this is a total victory:

The majority of the panel said they couldn’t uphold the mandate because there would be no limit to Congress’s powers if they did. Opponents of the law have frequently argued that if Congress can require people to buy insurance, they can force people to do anything else, such as buy broccoli or a gym membership for their health benefits…

“We have not found any generally applicable, judicially enforceable limiting principle that would permit us to uphold the mandate without obliterating the boundaries inherent in the system of enumerated congressional powers,” Dubina and Hull wrote. “’Uniqueness’ is not a constitutional principle in any antecedent Supreme Court decision.”

Obama’s having some month, huh?

UPDATE: Team Obama says they are “confident” that they will still prevail. They now have 90 days to appeal to either the Supremes or the full 11th circuit.