The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, ruled today that Congress exceeded its Constitutional authority by requiring Americans to buy health insurance coverage. The 2-1 ruling also found that the rest of the law could stand.
I’m still reviewing the 200 plus page majority opinion from Judges Joel Dubina and Frank Hull, but here’s the conclusion summarizing the court’s findings:
We first conclude that the Act’s Medicaid expansion is constitutional. Existing Supreme Court precedent does not establish that Congress’s inducements are unconstitutionally coercive, especially when the federal government will bear nearly all the costs of the program’s amplified enrollments.
Next, the individual mandate was enacted as a regulatory penalty, not a revenue-raising tax, and cannot be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Taxing and Spending Clause. The mandate is denominated as a penalty in the Act itself, and the legislative history and relevant case law confirm this reading of its function.
Further, the individual mandate exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power and is unconstitutional. This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives. 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. “Uniqueness” is not a constitutional principle in any antecedent Supreme Court decision. The individual mandate also finds no refuge in the aggregation doctrine, for decisions to abstain from the purchase of a product or service, whatever their cumulative effect, lack a sufficient nexus to commerce. [fn omitted]
The individual mandate, however, can be severed from the remainder of the Act’s myriad reforms. The presumption of severability is rooted in notions of judicial restraint and respect for the separation of powers in our constitutional system. The Act’s other provisions remain legally operaive after the mandate’s excision, and the high burden needed under Supreme Court precedent to rebut the presumption of severability has not been met.
While this is welcome news I wouldn’t celebrate just yet, we’ve still got a long way to go. If nothing else this ruling makes it more likely that this case is headed to the Supreme Court.
- Nancy Pelosi wasn’t kidding when she said we had to pass it to find out what was in it… The majority opinion is 207 pages long, most of it is devoted to explaining how the law the works.
- This is the first time a judge appointed by a Democrat has ruled against the individual mandate… Judge Hull was appointed by Bill Clinton, while Judge Dubina is a George H.W. Bush appointee.
- The court didn’t buy the Obama administration’s argument that the individual mandate is an exercise of the governments taxing powers. I might be wrong on this, but I think every court that’s considered the matter has ruled against the government on that point.
- The Court points out on page 171 that if it were to accept the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Commerce Clause would mean a limitless federal power:
The federal government’s assertion of power, under the Commerce Clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure.
- The court basically punted on the issue of severability:
The presumption of severability is rooted in notions of judicial restraint and respect for the separation of powers in our constitutional system. The Act’s other provisions remain legally operative after the mandate’s excision, and the high burden needed under Supreme Court precedent to rebut the presumption of severability has not been met.
Maybe I’m missing something, but it’s my layman’s understanding the standard for “presuming” something being “severable” in a law is that it includes a specific severability clause. Regardless from what I remember, the government’s argument to Judge Vinson was that the individual mandate was not severable, it was necessary for the law to function as intended.
The complete ruling is here.