The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted summary judgment today in favor of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s legal challenge to the recently enacted federal healthcare overhaul. The case, 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.
The decision was a victory for WLF, which filed a brief in the case on behalf of fourteen constitutional scholars arguing that even the broadest Supreme Court precedents do not give Congress the authority to compel Americans to purchase a product they do not want. Relying on leading Supreme Court precedent, 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. Judge Henry Hudson largely adopted this reasoning in his order today.
Judge Hudson also rejected the federal government’s argument that the mandate was permissible under the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Taxing Clause. Agreeing with District Judge Vinson that the mandate is a penalty and not a tax, Judge Hudson held that 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. And without a legitimate anchor to an enumerated congressional power under the Constitution, such as the Commerce Clause or the Tax Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause cannot be used to salvage 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. 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. Today’s decision serves as a powerful rejoinder to those who’ve insisted all along that the various lawsuits against the health care mandate are patently frivolous, political grandstanding with no basis in sound legal argument.