Judge voids part of Obamacare

Ruling says law stretches bounds of Constitution

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In a major setback for the Obama administration, a federal judge in Virginia struck down as unconstitutional a key provision of the landmark health care law, saying that forcing all Americans to buy health insurance “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.”

“At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — of crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate,” U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson in Richmond said in a 42-page opinion.

Judge Hudson concluded that Congress lacked the power under the commerce clause “to compel an individual to involuntarily engage in a private commercial transaction,” warning that the “unchecked expansion of congressional power” as suggested by the law “would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.”

There are other pending challenges to the health care law, which has been upheld by two other trial court judges. The Supreme Court is therefore likely to decide the law’s ultimate fate — a process that could take up to two years.

Judge Hudson’s ruling was broadly critical of the health care act, signed into law in March and known as the Affordable Care Act. However, the ruling applies only to the mandate that Americans must buy health insurance and those provisions that hinge on it. The law as a whole was not struck down, and the judge declined to grant an injunction that would have suspended the law immediately.

HIS POINT: Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II says the Obamacare case isn't about health insurance, "it's about liberty." (Associated Press)

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HIS POINT: Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II says the Obamacare ... more >

The Obama administration argued that the requirement to purchase health care insurance amounted to a tax and, as a result, was allowable under Congress‘ taxing powers. The commerce clause gives Congress the authority to regulate the trade of goods or commodities with foreign nations and among the states.

“A thorough survey of pertinent constitutional case law has yielded no reported decisions from any federal appellate courts extending the Commerce Clause … to encompass regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product,” the judge wrote.

Judge Hudson, named to be bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush, sided with Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, whose lawsuit defended a new state law prohibiting the government from forcing residents to buy health insurance. Virginia asserted that an Obama administration requirement that citizens buy health insurance by 2014 — when most of the law’s provisions kick in — or pay a penalty was unconstitutional.

Mr. Cuccinelli argued that while the federal government can regulate economic activity that has an impact on interstate commerce, a decision not to buy health insurance was inactivity and thus beyond the government’s reach.

At a news conference Monday, Mr. Cuccinelli applauded the ruling, saying the case was not about health insurance or health care, “it’s about liberty.”

“The ruling is extremely positive for anyone who believes in the system of federalism created by our Founding Fathers,” he said. “It underscores that our Constitution’s limitations on federal power really do mean something.”

Though the Virginia Republican said he understands that many people can’t afford health insurance and that the system “obviously needs to be fixed,” he added that “as someone who has sworn to uphold the law, I can’t endorse the taking away the rights of some people to fund the health insurance for other people.”

He also predicted that by the end of January, half the states will have signed on as parties to a lawsuit against the federal government to rein in its “overstepping the boundaries of the Constitution.”

“This is truly unique and it speaks to the severity of the breach of the constitutional boundaries that has occurred here, and it also speaks to the reaction from the country,” he said.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that support for the health care legislation is at a new low with 52 percent opposed and 43 percent in favor — down from a high of 48 percent in favor in November 2009.

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