Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Obamacare unconstitutional- Florida Court

In a stunning decision striking down the controversial "Affordable Health Care for America Act," (i.e. "Obamacare"), a United States federal court for the second time has ruled unconstitutional President Obama's crown legislative accomplishment.  United States District Court Judge Roger Vinson, sitting at Pensacola Florida, ruled yesterday that the 2008 bill, forced through on a straight party-line vote with little bipartisan input, exceeded its limits under the Constitution by an expansive interpretation of the "Commerce Clause" that unlawfully intruded into both individuals' and States' rights in its attempts to govern "passive" non-commercial activity.  

Significantly, the court found payment by individuals of a "fine" for failing to buy health insurance a penalty, (the so called "individual mandate"), and inappropriate under application of precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court.   Further, finding no "severability clause" in the controversial law's provisions, the Court declared the whole act void, (or, in layman's terms, illegal).

Be careful what you wish for.

The ruling, partly forced by the Obama Administration's own insistence in court proceedings that no "severability clause" was intended in the legislation and it thus must either be upheld or struck down in its entirety, was nonetheless a stunning victory for States Rights and anti-Obamacare forces in both its breadth and intellectual heft. 

A comprehensive and well reasoned decision which invokes Revolutionary history.

 Of special note, the reasoning of the 78 page decision-- widely perceived as more comprehensive and sweeping compared to a previous decision by a Virginia court striking the law down on narrower grounds-- at one point utilized the historical backdrop of the American Revolution-era "Boston Tea Party" to analogize that the act could not be legal under our Constitutional system for the simple reason that, just as England then in our nation's history could not force Colonists to buy taxed tea only from the British-authorized "East India Company," (a provision of the 1773 "Tea Act" passed by the British parliament to deal with the "problem" of cheaper and allegedly inferior "smuggled" tea, see http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/related/teaact.htm), neither could the present day U.S. government force individuals to buy a product (health insurance) on penalty of a fine. 

As Judge Vinson reasoned, "It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place." (P. 42 of ruling and Order, download in pdf form here http://johnrlott.blogspot.com/2011/01/copy-of-florida-judges-decision.html).

A victory for "States' Rights" and "originalist" forces.

Focusing in large part on the rights of the States' under the Tenth Amendment and Separation of Powers principles, the Court's decision essentially validated the view of the "health reform" law's opponents which emphasizes a distinction between commercial "acts" under the "commerce clause" of the U.S. Constitution, (thus subject to federal regulation under decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, see http://topics.law.cornell.edu/wex/Commerce_Clausehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commerce_Clause), and the "non act" of individual citizens in failing to buy a governmentally-prescribed product or service.  

Indeed, Judge Vinson's decision repeatedly cited the U.S. Supreme court in clearly voicing the concerns of Constitutional "originalists," civil libertarians, legal scholars and Tea Partiers alike that if the commerce clause can be interpreted in such a way as to, for the first time in history, not just prohibit activity but compel the purchase by private individuals of a certain product or service, then there is nothing the government can be limited from coercing of its citizens, no activity, no matter how small, which the federal government cannot control, (from forcing us to buy certain brands of toothpaste to eating our vegetables like good little citizens).  Again, in Judge Vinson's own words:

"If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain for it would be “difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power” [citing Supreme Court case United Staes v. Lopez, 514 U.S. at 564], and we would have a Constitution in name only. Surely this is not what the Founding Fathers could have intended."

Equally important to the straightforward reasoning of this decision is the breadth of the ruling which at one and the same time as it declares unequivocally that the controversial law is unconsitutional also issued an injunction prohibiting its enforcement and implementation.   

From here to eternity (or at least five members of the U.S. Supreme Court!)

Notwithstanding indications from the Obama Administration that it has no intention of heeding Judge Vinson's Order(s), the ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, (even as the Attorney General of Florida, along with the other 25 States, organizations and individuals who are also challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, seeks expedited review by the Supreme Court of this critical case).  We shall be very carefully watching this one and keep you apprised of any developments.  jp


  1. I have to buy clothes. If I don't I will be arrested when I walk on the street. Are you going to say this "clothes mandate" is unconstitutional as well?

    You might argue that no federal law prohibits walking around nude, it is state law which this judgement avoids as state legislatures have more expansive constitutional jurisdiction. This though, undermines the argument that the country's constitution wouldn't allow for mandated tea purchases (or health insurance) as the ruling only outlaws it because it was the feds that passed it (Mass. has a law and it's not been struck down).

    One might also conclude that the nation wouldn't stand for being forced to buy tea but this would be a politically and not judicially enforced rule (who would vote someone in that would require them to buy tea?) If this is the case, then it's not a legal-constitutional one but a sociological-political one.

  2. You make my point better than I. You may have to buy clothes, but you, in fact, do NOT have to roam the streets. Just like driving, you don't have to choose to get a driver's license, but if you want to drive on the highways, (a privilege), you must for the simple reason of public safety that all drivers have a minimum ability of competence and others' lives are at stake. It is a stretch to make the same argument for health insurance, (which can at most only effect others' pocketbooks). Perhaps this is why such an argument has not been made in the present cases winding their way through the courts.

    I don't get your point (I think?) about nudity and Federalism. The Tenth Amendment gives the states the right to regulate matters within their borders which impact upon health or public safety. Not only would walking around naked not impact interstate commerce, (or perhaps, if forcing people to buy health insurance, a product which is regulated individually by each state within its borders, is upheld I will have to reconsider whether maybe nudity maybe IS "interstate commerce"! lol), but one is not FORCED to walk around naked. Thus there is no nexus to the act of buying clothes, even if that act could be shown to effect interstate commerce.

    As far as your reference to being forced to buy tea, (I presume a stab at Judge Vinson's reasoning analogizing from the Boston Tea party which I cite in my original post), you may be correct that the ultimate solution is the electoral/political one, (if that is indeed what you are saying). But the fact remains that we are a nation of laws and the Democrats forced this ACT through in the form of a bill of law, (as right to do as most changes in public policy, but see my post on Obama's Rule by Decree). Under our Republic's constitution the federal courts determine whether laws that are passed are constitutional or whether they violate other specific provisions or limitations imposed by that same Constitution (such as the Tenth Amendment or Separation of Powers principles). That is exactly what opponents to this bill are doing in seeking the Supreme Court's review of the Affordable Healthcare Act, (and so far with fairly good results). Thanks for sharing. jp