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September 16th, 2011
By Dan Miller
The president is left with cheese on his face again as Hope and Change suffers another legal blow.
On September 13th, Judge Christopher C. Conner of the federal district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Goudy-Bachman et al v. HHS held the mandatory medical insurance provisions of ObamaCare to be beyond the powers of the Congress under the Commerce Clause, Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. Somehow, it just didn’t work out too well.
It’s a lot of work and often there is lots of pressure to get things done right now. However, perhaps the members of Congress should have read it before passing it.
As an introductory matter, Judge Conner noted,
I emphasize, as Judge Vinson emphasized in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, that this case is not about whether the Health Care Act merely treats the symptoms or cures the disease which has so clearly afflicted our health care system. Nor is it about the exhaustive efforts of Congress to document and to project the increasing costs of health care services or to pinpoint discriminatory practices associated with preexisting conditions. Rather, this case concerns the precise parameters of Congress’s enumerated authority under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Specifically, the issue is whether Congress can invoke its Commerce Clause power to compel individuals to buy insurance as a condition of lawful citizenship or residency. The court concludes that it cannot. The power to regulate interstate commerce does not subsume the power to dictate a lifetime financial commitment to health insurance coverage. Without judicially enforceable limits, the constitutional blessing of the minimum coverage provision would effectively sanction Congress’s exercise of police power under the auspices of the Commerce Clause, jeopardizing the integrity of our dual sovereignty conditions. (internal citations here and in other quotations generally omitted)
The judge applied the traditionally rigorous standard in evaluating a facial challenge to a statute in the posture of ObamaCare, viz, that the plaintiffs “must establish that ‘no set of circumstances exist under which the Act would be valid.’” He reviewed relevant Supreme Court precedent and the split in federal court decisions on the matter and summarized his agreements and disagreements with the recent holdings by the Fourth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits.
The Fourth Circuit had dismissed challenges to ObamaCare on procedural grounds. However, Judge Conner noted that a concurring judge there had opined,
Both parties have cited extensively to previous Supreme Court opinions defining the scope of the Commerce Clause. Economic mandates such as the one contained in the Act are so unprecedented, however, that the government has been unable … to point this Court to Supreme Court precedent that addresses their constitutionality…. What the Court has never done is interpret the Commerce Clause to allow Congress to dictate the financial decision of Americans through an economic mandate.
The Sixth Circuit had found no viable distinction for Commerce Clause purposes as between economic activity and inactivity and, finding that nearly everyone at some time or other uses health care, a market with “few if any” parallels, it upheld the individual mandate.
The Eleventh Circuit had found the mandate “woefully overinclusive” and rejected arguments that it is constitutional. Judge Conner stated,
after a review of Commerce Clause jurisprudence, the unprecedented nature of the individual mandate, its broad scope and the congressional findings supporting it, the court concluded that the individual mandate embodied no limits, and exceeded Congress’s Commerce Clause powers. For the Eleventh Circuit, “[t]he federal government’s assertion of power, under the Commerce Clause, to issue an economic mandate for Americans to purchase insurance from a private company for the entire duration of their lives is unprecedented, lacks cognizable limits, and imperils our federalist structure.” The court therefore affirmed the district court in striking down the individual mandate as unconstitutional.
Judge Conner disagreed with the decision by Judge Vinson in Florida and the majority in the Eleventh Circuit that
if affirmed, an expanded commerce power would open a Pandora’s box of nefarious mandates limited only by the confines of a legislative majority.
The consequences of an expanded commerce power are not so dire. First,the notion that Congress could compel the consumption of broccoli … (“Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals….”), or apples, for that matter, is simply incorrect.
Well, some hamsters like broccoli.
Judge Conner observed that Supreme Court precedent would prevent a broccoli or similar mandate and that
the truly unique factual circumstances of this case would necessarily render any holding limited. (“Upholding the mandate under the particular circumstances of this case would do little to pave the way for future congressional mandates that address wholly distinct problems that may arise in powerfully different contexts.”). Finally, an informed electorate would not countenance frivolous mandates.
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