In a stunning setback for President Barack Obama in his drive to remake the U.S. healthcare system, a federal judge ruled Monday that a key provision of the new law was unconstitutional and therefore, “the entire act must be declared void.”
Federal Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee, found that the individual mandate that persons over the age of 18 purchase health insurance that is the cornerstone of Obamacare was unconstitutional, affirming an argument against the new law made by 26 state attorneys general, two private citizens, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s premier small business lobby.
In his decision, he wrote that the case was “not about whether the act is wise or unwise legislation, or whether it will solve or exacerbate the myriad problems in our health care system.” According to Vinson, in his 78-page ruling, what is at issue in the case—State of Florida, by and through Attorney General Pam Bondi, et al. v. the United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al.—is “principally about our federalist system.” The challenge to Obamacare, he opined, “raises very important issues regarding the Constitutional role of the federal government.” [Read the U.S. News debate: Should the healthcare law be repealed?]
Invoking the Founding Fathers, Vinson went on to say that “The ongoing challenge is deciding whether a particular federal law falls within or outside” the powers of the federal government as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. “It is frequently a difficult task and the subject of heated debate and strong disagreement. As Chief Justice Marshall aptly predicted nearly 200 years ago, while everyone may agree that the federal government is one of enumerated powers, ‘the question respecting the extent of the powers actually granted, is perpetually arising, and will probably continue to arise, so long as our system shall exist.’”
“This case,” Vinson wrote, “presents such a question.”
The ruling represents a tremendous victory for the Tea Party movement and others whose resurgent reverence for the Constitution was such an important part of the narrative in the most recent election. And, while it is not nearly the final word on the subject, it is a huge setback for those who argue the power of the federal government is, in fact, unlimited when it comes to meeting the social concerns of the nation. Liberty, it turns out, is not as shopworn and outmoded a concept as some people lately like to argue it is. [See a slide show of 10 ways the GOP can take down Obamacare.]