The Limits of Congress on Health Care and Individual Autonomy

By December 14, 2010Briefly Legal, Health Care

U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Monday, rejecting the attempt by Congress to force people to buy a product, in this case, health insurance. The core paragraph in his ruling:

The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers. At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance – or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage – it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who brought the suit, emphasized constitutional principles in his comments on the court’s ruling: “This is only round one. This lawsuit is not about health-care, it’s about liberty.”

In an interview on WMAL this morning and other comments, the Republican Attorney General responded to questions about expedited review by the Supreme Court by noting the economic consequences of continued undertainty: “With this ongoing court battle, there is a great deal of uncertainty for states, individuals, and businesses as to whether this law will be around two years from now or not. We need this resolved as quickly as possible – for the good of our people and our economy.”

In a Washington Post op-ed — they must have anticipated a defeat — Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius argued that the health care law brings many goods thing to people and would not be possible without the individual mandate. After leading with an anecdote about the benefits of the law, they argue:

As these lawsuits continue, Americans should be clear about what the opponents of reform are asking the courts to do. Striking down the individual responsibility provision means slamming the door on millions of Americans like Gail O’Brien, who’ve been locked out of our health insurance markets, and shifting more costs onto families who’ve acted responsibly.

It’s not surprising that opponents, having lost in Congress, have taken to the courts. We saw similar challenges to laws that created Social Security and established new civil rights protections. Those challenges ultimately failed, and so will this one.

Thus, the Administration’s argument is a political, not a constitutional one, foreshadowing the 112th Congress and 2012 elections. There appear to be no limits on the federal government’s mandates in this view. And if you oppose their view on health care, you oppose Social Security and civil rights. Clear?

Washington Post, “Cantor, McDonnell call for expedited Supreme Court review of health-care law
Cuccinelli news release, “Virginia wins federal court challenge over constitutionality of federal health care act: Health insurance mandate is unconstitutional

Two brief profiles of Cuccinelli:

The NAM is not a party to any of the litigation against the federal health care law.

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