Moments ago, a district judge in Virginia ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual requirement to purchase health care coverage violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but did not issue an injunction baring enforcement of the provision. “The power of Congress to regulate a class of activities that in the aggregate has a substantial and direct effect on interstate commerce is well settled,” Judge Henry Hudson — a George W. Bush appointee — writes in the ruling, before adding, “but these regulatory powers are triggered by some type of self-initiated action”:
Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market. In doing so, enactment of the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article 1.
Because an individual’s personal decision to purchase — or decline to purchase — health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause does not provide a safe sanctuary. …The Minimum Essential Coverage Provision is neither within the letter nor the spirit
The opinion represents a victory for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, but the decision stands alone within the broader context of existing court challenges. Since President Obama signed health reform into law on March 23, opponents have filed at least 20 separate suits against the measure. Federal judges have dismissed 14 of these challenges and at least two separate judges disagreed with Hudson’s interpretation and questioned the merit of the plaintiffs’ claim that compelling individuals to purchase insurance fell outside of the purview of the commerce clause. As Judge George Caram Steeh of the Eastern District of Michigan put it in October, forgoing insurance and putting off needed care only increases the costs of coverage and raises everyone’s premiums:
There is a rational basis to conclude that, in the aggregate, decisions to forego insurance coverage in preference to attempting to pay for health care out of pocket drive up the cost of insurance. The costs of caring for the uninsured who prove unable to pay are shifted to health care providers, to the insured population in the form of higher premiums, to governments, and to taxpayers. The decision whether to purchase insurance or to attempt to pay for health care out of pocket, is plainly economic. These decisions, viewed in the aggregate, have clear and direct impacts on health care providers, taxpayers, and the insured population who ultimately pay for the care provided to those who go without insurance. These are the economic effects addressed by Congress in enacting the Act and the minimum coverage provision.
To be sure, the legal fight is far from over. Hudson’s ruling will be appealed to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and may even end up before the Supreme Court. Appeals are also pending in other circuits and a federal judge will hear arguments Thursday in a challenge brought by a coalition of 20 state attorneys general led by Florida’s Bill McCollum.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — who supported the individual mandate in the 1990s — is out with a statement:
“Today is a great day for liberty,” said Hatch. “Congress must obey the Constitution rather than make it up as we go along. Liberty requires limits on government, and today those limits have been upheld.”
,Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is calling on the Supreme Court to expedite their review:
“To ensure an expedited process moving forward, I call on President Obama and Attorney General Holder to join Attorney General Cuccinelli in requesting that this case be sent directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this challenging environment, we must not burden our states, employers, and families with the costs and uncertainty created by this unconstitutional law, and we must take all steps to resolve this issue immediately.