On Dec. 13, 2010, United States District Court Judge Henry Hudson declared a portion of President Obama’s much-hyped health care reform law unconstitutional. According to Judge Hudson’s decision, the portion of the law that requires individuals to have insurance, Section 1501, does not have an impact on interstate commerce and therefore is not within the enumerated powers of Congress.
If the decision to carry insurance does not impact interstate commerce, then any attempt by Congress to regulate it will be unconstitutional. The Judge declined to issue an injunction. This directly contradicts rulings by other United States District Judges, who determined that the decision to carry insurance does have an effect on interstate commerce.
The interstate commerce clause is a controversial enumerated power of the United States Congress. This clause is a double-edged sword used to prevent the individual states from discriminating against out-of-state goods, services, travel and other matters; discriminating for instate matters; and to give Congress the ability to regulate those matters. It has been used in controversial ways over the states to strike down laws. It has also been used by Congress to regulate controversial matters, such as fining farmers for planting too much wheat. The courts are to determine if the cumulative effect of the legislation has a substantial impact on interstate commerce. It is a vague and confusing standard to many.
In this case, one of the main issues is whether inaction can be considered to have an effect on interstate commerce. The health care reform act’s section 1501 requires people to have insurance. The question boils down to whether an individual’s insurance can have a cumulative effect of having a substantial impact on interstate commerce.
Judges Steeh and Moon determined that the financial impact of an individual not having insurance would have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Judge Hudson felt that the inaction of not having insurance could not be legislated as having an impact on interstate commerce.
There is likely also a political component to the decision. Judge Hudson was appointed by former President George Bush, and he has a long history with the Republican Party. He looks at the law more conservatively, and interprets the commerce clause more literally. Judge Norman Moon and Judge George Steeh separately upheld section 1501. Both judges viewed the section as having an impact on commerce because of the economic nature of insurance. Both judges were appointed by former President William J. Clinton, and have a more liberal, or broad, view of the interstate commerce clause.
The Supreme Court has previously declined to hear a case on the constitutionality of the health care reform law. This particular case was about whether the law was ripe for a challenge, as the law hasn’t fully been implemented yet. However, now that there are conflicting decisions on the constitutionality of section 1501, it is likely that the court will take the matter up.
It will likely be years before the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature legislation is finally determined. With some corporations considering dropping health care altogether and with the economy still not fully recovered, the decision on the constitutionality of the bill has the potential to impact everyone. I am lucky enough to have good insurance at this time. However, that could change, so I am interested in seeing what happens with this legislation.