Court Declares Federal Healthcare Mandate Unconstitutional

Friday, December 17, 2010

Court Declares Federal Healthcare Mandate Unconstitutional

The Washington Legal Foundation issued the following news release:

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted summary judgment this week in favor of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s legal challenge to a provision of the recently enacted federal healthcare overhaul. The ruling was a victory for the Washington Legal Foundation (WLF), which filed a brief in the case arguing that even the broadest Supreme Court precedents do not give Congress the authority to compel Americans to force a product they do not want.

The lawsuit, Commonwealth of Va. v. Sebelius, arises from Virginia’s constitutional challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), a federal law containing an individual mandate that would require all uninsured Americans, under threat of civil penalty, to purchase health insurance for themselves and their dependents. In declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson’s opinion adopted many of the legal positions advanced by WLF’s brief.

In its brief, WLF argued that an individual’s passive status as “uninsured” simply does not implicate the traditional Commerce Clause power because it does not constitute “activity” in interstate commerce. As a result, both the PPACA’s individual mandate and its penalty provision exceed the outer limits of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. Likewise, the Tax Clause cannot save the mandate’s penalty provision, which does not fall under any of the categories of taxes that the Constitution authorizes Congress to impose. Without a legitimate anchor to an enumerated congressional power under the Constitution, the Necessary and Proper Clause cannot be used to vindicate the individual mandate.

“Judge Hudson’s ruling today is a victory for the founding vision of the Framers of the Constitution, who sought to maintain a balance of power between federal and state governments as a means of reducing the risks of tyranny and abuse by governments at every level,” said WLF Senior Litigation Counsel Cory Andrews after reviewing the court’s decision. “The individual health care mandate upsets that balance by seeking to regulate Americans’ economic inactivity—an individual’s decision not to purchase health insurance—which is far afield from the enumerated powers assigned to the federal government under Article I of the Constitution,” Andrews said.

WLF’s brief was drafted with the pro bono assistance of Professor Ilya Somin of George Mason University School of Law. WLF filed its brief on its own behalf and on behalf of its clients—fourteen legal academics whose teaching, research, and published scholarship focus on constitutional law and related fields. WLF’s clients included Jonathan Adler and George Dent (Case Western Reserve University School of Law); Michael Distelhorst and David N. Mayer (Capital University Law School); James W. Ely, Jr. (Vanderbilt University Law School); Elizabeth Price Foley (Florida International University College of Law); David Kopel (University of Denver Sturm College of Law); Kurt Lash (University of Illinois College of Law); Andrew Morriss (University of Alabama College of Law); Leonard “Jack” Nelson (Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law); Stephen B. Presser (Northwestern University School of Law); Ronald J. Rychlak (University of Mississippi School of Law); Steven J. Willis (University of Florida Levin College of Law); and, Todd J. Zywicki (George Mason University School of Law).

Earlier this year, WLF filed a brief in opposition to the federal government’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit. The court ultimately agreed with WLF and entered an order denying the government’s motion to dismiss, thereby allowing the suit to proceed on the merits.