October 15 2010

Not Even a Close Call...

Charlotte Hays

"Even the legal left now grudgingly concedes that the constitutional challenges to ObamaCare aren't frivolous, and an important decision in Florida yesterday shows why," begins an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal.

Federal District Judge Roger Vinson 's decision yesterday in Florida not only allows the challenge by 20 states to go forward, but Vinson outlines why the administration's health care legislation might face constitutional trouble ahead:

The lawsuit's bedrock claim is that ObamaCare's individual mandate that people buy health insurance or else pay a penalty exceeds Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause, while Justice contended that this is nothing out of the ordinary. But as Judge Vinson writes in his 65-page ruling, "this is not even a close call. . . . The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent."

Congress is attempting to regulate not interstate commerce but economic inactivity by requiring individuals to purchase a private product "based solely on citizenship and on being alive." Judge Vinson ruled that the plaintiffs "have at least stated a plausible claim that the line has been crossed" concerning the outermost bounds of federal power under the Constitution.

The other matter that Judge Vinson addresses is whether this requirement is a tax. Remember it wasn't a tax before it became a tax-the administration denied that it was a tax hike, while trying to sell it to the public, but once it was challenged in court, the administration discovered that-eureka!-it IS a tax and therefore falls within the federal government's taxation right. Vinson explored this notion:

Judge Vinson notes that legally there are "clear, important, and well-established differences between the two," and in a meticulous examination of the plain language of the bill itself he finds that it "contains no indication that Congress was exercising its taxing authority or that it meant for the penalty to be regarded as a tax." He pointedly notes that defenders of the law can't now take the "'Alice in Wonderland' tack" of claiming that Congress really meant something else.

The legal upshot is that Justice lawyers will have to defend the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause....

Hadley Heath has already commented on the meaning of the Florida decision (here and here) and IWF's Health Care Lawsuits website is the best way to keep abreast of legal developments in the challenge to the administration's health care legislation. The great thing about the site: it's easy to understand, brightly written, and up to day. So I really meant best things. I highly recommend the Constitutionality Corner blog.

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