“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place. 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 for it would be ‘difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power’ and we would have a Constitution in name only.”
So wrote Judge Roger Vinson of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida yesterday while becoming the second federal judge to strike down Obamacare’s individual mandate. Like Judge Henry Hudson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge Vinson also found that Section 1501 of the act, which forces all Americans to buy government-approved health insurance policies, “falls outside the boundary of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority and cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers.” But then Judge Vinson went even further, concluding that “the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit.” Accordingly, Vinson concluded: “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.”
In reaching the decision to strike down the entirety of Obamacare, Judge Vinson used the Obama Administration’s own words against them, noting that their own filings with the court claimed that the law’s other provisions “cannot be severed from the [individual mandate].” In addition, Judge Vinson notes that Congress could have easily included a severability clause in the legislation if they wanted to, that an earlier version of Obamacare did indeed have such a clause, but Congress intentionally removed the severability clause in the final bill. Judge Vinson wrote that the Obama Administration has “asserted again and again that the individual mandate is absolutely ‘necessary’ and ‘essential’ for the Act to operate as it was intended by Congress. I accept that it is.”
Judge Vinson’s decision is a body blow to Obamacare that the law will never recover from. The New York Times claims the decision “even[s] the score at 2 to 2,” and The Washington Post “reports”: “Four suits have now been decided on their merits—two rulings upholding the law and, with Monday’s decision, two finding all or part of it unconstitutional.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Only two Obamacare cases have moved passed preliminary motions and reached the merits of the case: Judge Hudson’s Virginia decision and Judge Vinson’s decision yesterday. More importantly, the parties involved in yesterday’s case make it unique. A majority of all states in the union (26) have joined forces with the National Federation of Independent Businesses to challenge this intolerable act. Heritage Foundation legal scholar Robert Alt comments: “If not completely unprecedented, the very fact that more than half the states marched into federal court on behalf of themselves and their citizens to challenge an unconstitutional federal program falls into the category of ‘beyond any recent memory.’”
Even more troubling for the Obama Administration, by granting declaratory relief to the parties involved (which as mentioned above includes 26 states), Judge Vinson has in effect stopped implementation of Obamacare dead in its tracks. Because the entire act was struck down, the future requirements to expand Medicaid programs will be suspended—at least as to these 26 states—and these states will be relieved of their obligation to make plans for such expansion in the immediate future.
At a time when many states face insolvency, the removal of this burden is welcome news. But America’s friends of liberty and opponents of Obamacare cannot rest here. It was not a coincidence that within an hour of Judge Vinson’s ruling, Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC) announced he had secured signatures from all 47 Republican Senators on a bill to repeal Obamacare in the Senate. The House already repealed Obamacare earlier this January.
The United States economy, and the American people, cannot wait for the Supreme Court to render a final decision. Obamacare is not just a judicial question. It is a fundamental question about what kind of country we want to live in. Do we want an America of limited government and vibrant economic growth? Or do we want to move toward an unlimited European-style welfare state?
Click here to read more Heritage analysis on the Florida ruling.