Mero Moment: The Obamacare Ruling

This week I want to talk about health care. Yesterday, in a powerful statement against Obamacare, a federal district court judge ruled that “The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act” is unconstitutional.

In a 78-page decision, Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the “individual mandate” – the federal requirement to purchase government-prescribed health insurance – violates the Constitution, and he also said that because the individual mandate is central to the workings of the health-overhaul law, it is not severable from the whole and therefore the whole law is unconstitutional.

This case, pressed by 26 states including Utah, goes further than an earlier ruling out of Virginia that held the individual mandate unconstitutional but allowed the rest of the law to stand. Judge Vinson even cited Utah’s vote in the Legislature last year holding that the individual mandate is non-binding on our state.

Here’s what I found most interesting. Judge Vinson determined that Congress does not have the authority to regulate “inactivity” – meaning someone deciding not to purchase health insurance. He said if that were to be declared a new federal power, there would be no end to what Congress could mandate citizens to do. He wrote, “It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause.”

He went on to rule that “[i]t 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 powers in the Constitution would have been in vain.”

Judge Vinson also ruled that the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of law, meaning if that part is unconstitutional, the whole law is unconstitutional. He opined, “In the final analysis, this Act has been analogized to a finely crafted watch. … It has approximately 450 separate pieces, but one essential piece (the individual mandate) is defective and must be removed.”

He wrote, “For me to try and second-guess what Congress would want to keep is almost impossible. … Congress’ failure to include a severability clause in the Act (or, more accurately, its decision to not include one that had been included earlier) can be viewed as strong evidence that Congress recognized the Act could not operate as intended without the individual mandate.” Now that’s a huge understatement.

All of Obamacare hinged on the idea that every American would be forced to participate in some manner. In fact, Obamacare can’t work any other way, as Judge Vinson points out. You can’t have socialized medicine without the force of law requiring everyone to participate.

All of this will be appealed, of course. But in the meantime, freedom-loving people can breathe a sigh of relief. No decent human being wants to see another person go without proper and sufficient medical care. But there are ways to do that and ways not to. Obamacare is the way not to go.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.