A ruling Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson has turned the healthcare debate on its head.
Hudson’s ruling, the first issued by a federal court in one of the cases brought by a state or states challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, held that “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 coverage--it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”
In finding that the dictates of the new law “exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I” of the U.S. Constitution Hudson has almost guaranteed that the matter will eventually reach the United States Supreme Court. And rightfully so. [Read more about healthcare reform.]
For too long the Obama administration has tried to have it both ways on many elements of new the healthcare law, arguing when convenient that the mandate is a simply a tax and arguing just as vociferously when it needed to that it wasn’t. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized Tuesday, “Judge Hudson's opinion is particularly valuable because it dispatches the White House's carousel of rationalizations for its unprecedented intrusions. The Justice Department argued that the mandate is justified by the Commerce Clause because the decision not to purchase insurance has a substantial effect on interstate commerce because everybody needs medical care eventually. And if not that, then it's permissible under the broader taxing power for the general welfare; and if not that, then it's viable under the Necessary and Proper clause; and if not that, well, it's needed to make the overall regulatory scheme function.”
The case, while per se about healthcare, is actually about individual freedom and the limits the federal government can place on its exercise thereof. If the federal government can compel individuals or companies to purchase health insurance, and can penalize them for failing to do so, then there is little else it cannot do. The same underlying logic could be used to force people to ride mass transportation, to purchase homes, to dictate the foods they eat and infringe on a host of other personal freedoms as it is specifically proscribed from doing under the terms of the Constitution’s 10th Amendment. [Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare.]
The Founding Fathers intended that there be limits placed on the power of the federal government. Hudson’s ruling, which defends the ideas that those limits still apply today, is a step forward for the American people. There is still a long way to go before Obamacare is repealed but, by finding the individual mandate is unconstitutional, one of its central pillars has just begun to wobble.
Corrected on : Corrected on 12/15/10: This blog post originally had an incorrect publication date.