In a case of “judicial activism on steroids,” a Florida federal judge on Monday ruled that the healthcare reform—as enacted last year by Congress and signed by President Obama—is unconstitutional.
“Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority,” wrote US District Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee who is the senior federal judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Vinson embraced the argument of conservative state attorney generals and allied right-wing groups that the federal goverment does not have the power to require Americans to buy health insurance.
President Obama has argued that the so-called “individual mandate” is necessary to spread the cost of reform and fund a functional system to provide care for all Americans.
Conservatives who do not want reform and progressives who want more reform—specifically, a single-payer “Medicare for All” system—have expressed concerns about the requirement that Americans buy insurance plans from private firms.
But Vinson dialed up the volume on the debate by ruling against not just the specific requirement but the whole law. “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional, and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” argued Vinson, in the most aggressive ruling so far against the reform.
“This is judicial activism on steroids,” responded Health Care for America Now executive ditrector Ethan Rome, who explained that: “Congress clearly has the authority to regulate the health insurance market, including protecting consumers from insurance industry abuses and reducing costs for families, seniors and businesses. The best way to protect consumers and control costs is to make sure everyone has health insurance, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act does.”
While another federal judge has ruled against the individual mandate, two federal judges have ruled in favor of the law. The conflicting decisions virtually guarantee that the legal battle over reform will go to the US Supreme Court.
Conservatives have a 5-4 majority on the high court and that majority has shown a penchant for judicial activism—especially in cases involving corporate power.
But Rome argues that the justices are unlikely to follow the extreme reasoning outlined by Judge Vinson. “Fortunately,” Rome explains, “the US Supreme Court will have the final say on the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, and it has corrected such lower-court mistakes when other major laws like Social Security, the minimum wage law and the Voting Rights Act were passed. Two other federal district judges have already upheld the new health care law.”
Families USA, another reform group, was similarly dismissive of the claim that the law is unconstitutional.
“The decision flies in the face of three other decisions, contradicts decades of legal precedent, and could jeopardize families’ health care security,” said Ron Pollack, the group’s executive director. “We are confident, as this and other cases are decided on appeal, that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld in its entirety.”
That may be true legally. However, the frequent forays into judicial activism by US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and his four conservative colleagues will raise doubts about whether the High Court will follow the law. As a result, the bitter debate over healthcare reform will continue, as the Republican-controlled US House and Republican governors attempt to block implementation of the measure.
HCAN’s Rome got it right when he argued that: “With consumers already benefiting from the law, this litigation is really about the Republican Party protecting health insurance company profits at the expense of working families. The Republican politicians who marched in lockstep to bring this suit aren’t really interested in the new law’s individual-responsibility rule. This lawsuit is just another tactic in the Republican Party’s campaign to give our health care back to the insurance companies no matter what the cost.”