Federal judge rules health insurance mandate unconstitutional

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that the minimum coverage provision of the recently enacted health care reform law [HR 3590 text; JURIST news archive] is unconstitutional. Judge Henry Hudson, who had previously denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit [JURIST report], found that an individual’s decision to purchase health insurance is beyond the reach of Congress and outside the purview of the Commerce, Necessary and Proper, General Welfare and Taxation powers enumerated in the US Constitution [text]:

A thorough survey of pertinent constitutional case law has yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts extending the Commerce Clause or General Welfare Clause to encompass regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce or role in a global regulatory scheme. The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police 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 left the rest of the law intact, determining that the minimum coverage provision is severable. Hudson also refused to issue injunctive relief, stating that “the award of declaratory judgment is sufficient to stay the hand of the executive branch pending an appeal.” It is anticipated that this challenge will go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Monday’s ruling marks the first time a court has struck down part of the health care despite numerous legal challenges. Last week, a judge for the US District Court for the District of New Jersey [official website] granted a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit [case materials] brought by a physician organization challenging the law. Earlier in December, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a health care challenge filed by Liberty University [academic website]. In October, a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website] denied a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by a group of attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of the health care law. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF], filed in March and joined by 20 states [JURIST reports] and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website; JURIST report], seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against what it alleges are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property or profession, and for invading the sovereignty of the states. A week earlier, a federal judge in Michigan ruled [JURIST report] that the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause as it addresses the economic effects of health care decisions, and that it does not represent an unconstitutional direct tax.

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