RICHMOND, Virginia, December 13, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that a section of the national health care law is unconstitutional, making it the first time a federal judge has ruled in favor of the law’s opponents.
(Read the ruling here.)
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson in Richmond today declared that Congress had no authority under the U.S. Constitution to mandate individuals buy health insurance or pay a fine to the federal government. That provision is the linchpin of the national health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act. It requires that all healthy individuals pay into health insurance plans so that insurance companies can afford to provide health coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions and expensive health problems.
“Despite the laudable intentions of Congress in enacting a comprehensive and transformative health care regime, the legislative process must still operate within constitutional bounds,” Hudson ruled. “Salutatory goals and creative drafting have never been sufficient to offset an absence of enumerated powers.”
“At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance - or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage - it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate,” Hudson wrote in his decision.
The ruling was a victory for Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, who had challenged the law on the basis of a conflicting Virginia statute that prohibits individuals in the state from being forced to buy health insurance. Cuccinelli had also argued that the law violates the bounds of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Tenth Amendment.
Hudson agreed that Congress overstepping the bounds of the commerce clause by compelling people to buy a product (health insurance) could have major implications when the principle is applied to other areas.
“An enactment that exceeds the power of Congress to adopt adversely affects everyone in every application,” he said.
Hudson did not issue an injunction, but said that the “the award of declaratory judgment is sufficient to stay the hand of the executive branch pending appellate review.”
Hudson declared that part of the law (sec. 1501) dealing with the individual mandate unconstitutional, but declined to declare the whole law unconstitutional. Instead, Hudson chose to sever that part of the Affordable Care Act from the rest of the law.
“I am gratified we prevailed,” said Cuccinelli in a statement. “This won’t be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution.”
Incoming U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called Hudson’s ruling a “clear affirmation” of the unconstitutional nature of the Affordable Care Act and he challenged President Obama to file a direct appeal 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,” Cantor said.
Family Research Council’s Special Legal Counsel Ken Klukowski said, however, that Hudson’s ruling only got it “half right.”
Klukowski said that he should have struck down the whole law, because the severed individual mandate “is essential to a complex law.”
“Striking down the mandate requires a court to strike down the entire statute and return the matter entirely to Congress,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, Chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, said in a statement that the GOP and willing allies would continue the fight for “patient-centered health care,” and undo the government-centered health care legislation. A fight to defund, repeal, and replace the Affordable Care Act is expected once the GOP takes over the House of Representatives in January.
“We should focus on the principles of access, affordability, quality, responsiveness, innovation, and patients’ choices without putting the federal government in charge,” he said.
So far two federal judges have upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, while only one has struck it down.
However U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola is set to hear oral arguments on Thursday in the second major challenge to the ACA. That one is led by Florida AG Bill McCollum and is joined by 19 other attorneys general representing their respective states.
In all, there are just under two dozen legal challenges to the ACA making their way through federal courts.
Read Judge Hudson’s decision here.