Federal Judge Strikes Down Entire Health Care Law

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida has struck down the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. In his ruling, available here, Judge Vinson held that the Commerce Clause does not give Congress the authority to regulate “inactivity,” the authority claimed to apply the individual mandate.

His ruling does not suspend implementation of the law, however.

This is the suit brought by the states — originally 20, now up to 26 — and the National Federal of Independent Business. The NFIB issued a release, “Judge Rules Healthcare Law Unconstitutional: NFIB, 26 states prevail in lawsuit against federal healthcare law“:

Washington, D.C., January 31, 2011—In a highly anticipated decision in the lawsuit brought by the National Federation of Independent Business and 26 states, federal district Judge Roger Vinson ruled today that the individual mandate in the healthcare law is unconstitutional and that this provision can not be severed from the rest of the healthcare law.

“NFIB is extremely pleased with Judge Vinson’s decision,” said Karen Harned, executive director, NFIB Small Business Legal Center. “NFIB joined this case to protect the rights of small-business owners to own, operate and grow their businesses free from unnecessary government intervention. The individual mandate, which forces citizens to purchase government approved health insurance, undermines this core principle and gives the federal government entirely too much power. We are delighted Judge Vinson agreed with NFIB and the states on this critical issue.”

Media coverage immediately jumped to the political implications of the decision, but the judge’s ruling warrants close reading before the specularama takes over. John O’Brien at the Chamber-backed Legal Newsline does so in his report, “Judge strikes down ObamaCare in ‘difficult decision’.” He cites key passages in which Judge Vinson explains why he struck down the entire law and not just the individual mandate.

Because the mandate is too integral a part to be separated, Vinson voided the entire legislation. He called it “a difficult decision to reach.”

“If Congress intends to implement health care reform — and there would appear to be widespread agreement across the political spectrum that reform is needed — it should do a comprehensive examination of the Act and make a legislative determination as to which of its hundreds of provisions and sections will work as intended without the individual mandate, and which will not,” he added.

“It is Congress that should consider and decide these quintessentially legislative questions, and not the courts.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing scheduled Wednesday, “The Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.” Witnesses:

  • John Kroger, Attorney General of Oregon [Who supports the federal law]
  • Randy E. Barnett, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Michael A. Carvin, Partner, Jones Day
  • Walter Dellinger, Douglas B. Maggs Professor Emeritus of Law, Duke University School of Law
  • Charles Fried, Beneficial Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

 UPDATE (4:55 p.m.): Hans Bader at the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains why the whole law fell, “Obamacare Struck Down by Florida Judge; Properly Applies Severability Principles to Invalidate Whole Law.”

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