On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson struck down the landmark Health Care Reform law enacted by Congress last year on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. A Supreme Court battle is now highly likely, which will ultimately determine the fate of this country’s attempt at universal health care.
Until now, two federal judges had sided with the Obama administration over the constitutionality of the law. This case was much more significant than the others because, in it, according to London’s Daily Mail, 26 predominantly Republican state governors and attorneys general had brought suit against the government over the health care reform law. The outcome of this case would affect more than half of the country.
Judge Vinson, in his ruling on Monday, stated, “I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate.” The individual mandate requires that by 2014, all Americans must be covered by health care insurance, with very limited exceptions. The purpose of the mandate was to bring healthy people who might otherwise choose to forgo insurance into the system, to help subsidize the rest.
Arguments revolved predominantly around the Commerce Clause in the Constitution, which gives Congress, among other things, the power to regulate commerce among the states. The Obama administration argued that the health care reform law was within the powers of Congress. MSNBC’s First Read reports that opponents of the law argued that while Congress had the power to regulate the insurance industry, it did not have the power to regulate inactivity, such as the decision of a person to not purchase health insurance.
In his ruling, Vinson said, “It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause,” and that if it were true, “it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.”
In a severe blow to Democrats and the Obama administration, he further wrote that, “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void.” Meaning, for now, the recently passed health care reform law is in limbo, and technically not valid in the 26 states that sued against it in court.
This ruling is seen as a major win for conservatives who had argued against the intrusion of government into people’s health care decisions, and meddling with small businesses. Largely expected to fail to win a majority of votes in the Senate on their House-passed repeal legislation, Republicans had the courts as another avenue of repeal. And, for now, appear to have succeeded.
However, in a country that is deeply divided over the health care reform law, this “win'” may be fraught with problems. Some of its largely popular effects have already begun, such as allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26, and preventing insurers from denying policies for pre-existing conditions. Are young adults going to be immediately dropped now in these 26 states? Will those with pre-existing conditions find themselves again without coverage, possibly not even being notified until after an upcoming surgery? The Obama administration will almost certainly request a stay to prevent the health care reform law from lapsing for over half of the country. A stay would enforce the status quo until such time as arguments could be heard by a higher court, or the Supreme Court.
It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear the case in this session, meaning more of the law could be in effect when the eventual decision is handed down. It will almost certainly provide some fireworks for the upcoming 2012 Presidential election. Fasten your seatbelts folks; this is going to be a bumpy ride!
Daily Mail Reporter. (2011). It Is Unconstitutional: District Judge Rules Obamacare ‘Violates Peoples’ Right’s’ as Half of States Win Landmark Challenge.
First Read. (2011). Florida Judge Rules Health Care Law is Unconstitutional.