I’ve now read through the 78-page decision by Federal Judge Roger Vinson in which he ruled the individual mandate, which is at the heart of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to be unconstitutional and not severable, necessitating that the “entire Act must be declared void.”
The decision itself, as Judge Vinson points out, is not really about our health-care system at all. It is principally about our federalist system, he writes, and “it raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government.”
While Vinson’s decision covers a lot of ground — including Medicaid expansion, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the evolution of Commerce Clause Jurisprudence — the core purpose of the decision is to set some outer limits on federal action. Because of the novel way the Obama administration is justifying the individual mandate, it would be virtually impossible to argue that there is anything that Congress is without power to regulate.
Judge Vinson’s opinion is laced with quotes from Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers. And because he believes that the individual mandate exceeds Congress’s commerce power, is without logical limitation, and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent — because, Vinson argues, it cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers and would remove all limits on federal power — he declared the Act unconstitutional.
Judge Vinson was certainly right to do so. And the arguments he employed to strike it down are powerful and perfect for this political moment. We are, after all, engaged in a debate about first principles and the role of the Constitution in our lives. Judge Vinson has affirmed in an elegant opinion the vision of James Madison. We can only hope that the Supreme Court eventually does as well.