Federal Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida, in a lawsuit by 26 state attorney generals, has held that Obamacare is unconstitutional.  Judge Vinson first found that the mandate was unconstitutional, and then found that the mandate could not be severed from the rest of the law, requiring that the entire law be deemed unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson found that there was no need for an injunction, since the declaratory judgment that the entire law was invalid was sufficient.  In effect, there is nothing left to enjoin, since no part of the law survived.  By contrast, in the ruling in Virginia last year invalidating the mandate, the Judge severed the mandate from the rest of the law (but denied an injunction preventing the rest of the law from taking effect). 

Here is the key language from the Order showing that Judge Vinson expects the federal government to obey the declaration that the law is unenforceable in its entirety:

“…there is a long-standing presumption “that officials of the Executive Branch will adhere to the law as declared by the court. As a result, the declaratory judgment is the functional equivalent of an injunction.” See Comm. on Judiciary of U.S. House of Representatives v. Miers, 542 F.3d 909, 911 (D.C. Cir. 2008); accord Sanchez-Espinoza v. Reagan, 770 F.2d 202, 208 n.8 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (“declaratory judgment is, in a context such as this where federal officers are defendants, the practical equivalent of specific relief such as an injunction . . . since it must be presumed that federal officers will adhere to the law as declared by the court”) (Scalia, J.) (emphasis added).

There is no reason to conclude that this presumption should not apply here. Thus, the award of declaratory relief is adequate and separate injunctive relief is not necessary.”

In this sense, this decision is far more sweeping than the Virginia case, and presents a greater problem for the Obama administration which arguably does not have authority to implement any aspect of Obamacare.

Here is the conclusion of the Order (emphasis mine):

“The existing problems in our national health care system are recognized by everyone in this case. There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford. This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution. Again, this case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government.

For the reasons stated, I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here.

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” …

In closing, I will simply observe, once again, that my conclusion in this case is based on an application of the Commerce Clause law as it exists pursuant to the Supreme Court’s current interpretation and definition. Only the Supreme Court (or a Constitutional amendment) can expand that.

For all the reasons stated above and pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (doc. 80) is hereby GRANTED as to its request for declaratory relief on Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, and DENIED as to its request for injunctive relief; and the defendants’ motion for summary judgment (doc. 82) is hereby GRANTED on Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint. The respective cross-motions are each DENIED. 

In accordance with Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Title 28, United States Code, Section 2201(a), a Declaratory Judgment shall be entered separately, declaring “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” unconstitutional.”

Judge Vinson rejected the argument that the mandate was a tax (footnote 4 of the Order): :

“I previously rejected the defendants’ argument that this penalty was really a tax, and that any challenge thereto was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. My earlier ruling on the defendants’ tax argument is incorporated into this order and, significantly, has the effect of focusing the issue of the individual mandate on whether it is authorized by the Commerce Clause. To date, every court to consider this issue (even those that have ruled in favor of the federal government) have also rejected the tax and/or Anti-Injunction arguments.”

While granting the States’ claims as to the mandate, Judge Vinson rejected the claim that the expansion of Medicaid was unconstitutional:

For this claim, the state plaintiffs object to the fundamental and “massive” changes in the nature and scope of the Medicaid program that the Act will bring about. They contend that the Act violates the Spending Clause [U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 1] as it significantly expands and alters the Medicaid program to such an extent they cannot afford the newly-imposed costs and burdens. They insist that they have no choice but to remain in Medicaid as amended by the Act, which will eventually require them to “run their budgets off a cliff.” This is alleged to violate the Constitutional spending principles set forth in South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 107 S. Ct. 2793, 97 L. Ed. 2d 171 (1987), and in other cases….

In considering this issue at the motion to dismiss stage, I noted that state participation in the Medicaid program under the Act is — as it always has been — voluntary. This is a fundamental binary element: it either is voluntary, or it is not.

While the state plaintiffs insist that their participation is involuntary, and that they cannot exit the program, the claim is contrary to the judicial findings in numerous other Medicaid cases… 

In short, while the plaintiffs’ coercion theory claim was plausible enough to survive dismissal, upon full consideration of the relevant law and the Constitutionalprinciples involved, and in light of the numerous disputed facts alluded to above, I must conclude that this claim cannot succeed and that the defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

As to the mandate, Judge Vinson focused on the issue of activity versus inactivity, finding the Commerce Clause did not extent to regulation of inactivity (i.e., the failure to purchase insurance):

“Furthermore, there is a simple and rather obvious reason why the Supreme Court has never distinguished between activity and inactivity before: it has not been called upon to consider the issue because, until now, Congress had never attempted to exercise its Commerce Clause power in such a way before….

It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause. If it has the power to compel  in otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the Act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself “commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce” [see Act § 1501(a)(1)], it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. It is difficult to imagine that a nation
which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place. If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain  …”

Judge Vinson rejected each of the arguments — such as that everyone eventually gets sick — used to try to justify the regulation of inactivity, finding that it was speculative and piling inference upon inference to try to tie a particular person’s failure to have insurance to the overall regulation of health care.

As to severability, Judge Vinson found the mandate could not be severed, and place some weigh on the fact that there was no severability clause in the legislation:

“The lack of a severability clause in this case is significant because one had been included in an earlier version of the Act, but it was removed in the bill that subsequently became law.   In other words, the severability clause was intentionally left out of the Act. The absence of a severability clause is further significant because the individual mandate was controversial all during the progress of the legislation and Congress was undoubtedly well aware that legal challenges were coming. Indeed, as noted earlier, even before the Act became law, several states had passed statutes declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional and purporting to exempt their residents from it; and Congress’ own attorneys in the CRS had basically advised that the challenges might well have legal merit as it was “unclear” if the individual mandate had “solid constitutional foundation.” …

In light of the foregoing, Congress’ failure to include a severability clause in the Act (or, more accurately, its decision to not include one that had been included earlier) can be viewed as strong evidence that Congress recognized the Act could not operate as intended without the individual mandate.

Moreover, the defendants have conceded that the Act’s health insurance reforms cannot survive without the individual mandate, which is extremely significant because the various insurance provisions, in turn, are the very heart of the Act itself…” 

(Note: This post has been updated several times from the original.)
Florida Health Care Mandate Lawsuiit – Summary Judgment Order http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf

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