Federal judge Henry E. Hudson of Richmond, Va., ruled yesterday that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance was unconstitutional. In his forty-two page opinion, Hudson took issue with the provision known as the “individual mandate,” writing, “Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market.” The crux of the case, the question of the Commerce Clause, is nicely outlined in this graf from the Times’s front page story on the decision today:
The case centers on whether Congress can use its powers under the Commerce Clause to compel citizens to buy a commercial product—namely health insurance—for the purpose of regulating an interstate economic market. Absent that authority, the administration argued, Congress could use the taxation powers granted by the Constitution to justify the insurance requirement, because the fine for not obtaining coverage will be assessed as an income tax penalty.
Most of the major daily coverage this morning has been sharp, outlining Hudson’s decision, ruminating on the future of the law, and placing the ruling in context—Hudson is an unabashed, potentially “activist” conservative; two previous, similar cases, one in Detroit and one in Lynchburg, Va., have upheld the law; and the case is one of twenty or so that have been filed, challenging the Obama health care law. And mostly reporters have avoided the temptation to overplay the decision as an end to Obamacare, instead outlining it, rightly, as something of a speed hump.
Still, each has given the case its own twist. The coverage ranges from significant doom and gloom—most pronounced perhaps across the pond in Richard Adams’s Guardian blog post (“Obama’s healthcare reforms are looking sick”)—to the more measured—The Washington Post is even-handed in its assessment that the ruling provides mixed holiday blessings for both political parties.
McClatchy’s story, “Virginia Judge rules health care law unconstitutional,” is a good place to start if you’re after the basic nuts and bolts. Margaret Talev and Michael Doyle’s report is comprehensive and nuanced. First, there’s the context, and a brief sketch of the players and their leanings:
Some 20-odd cases have been filed overall challenging the law.
White House officials and advocates of the law emphasized that Hudson’s ruling is no more important than two recent rulings by federal judges that upheld the mandate. In October, U.S. District Judge George Steeh in Michigan ruled the insurance mandate fit within congressional power under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. On Nov. 30, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon in Lynchburg, Va. ruled the same.
The Commerce Clause explicitly states that Congress can “regulate commerce among the several states,” although the Supreme Court has struggled for years to decide what activities this covers.
“There is a rational basis for Congress to conclude that individuals’ decisions about how and when to pay for health care are activities that in the aggregate substantially affect the interstate health care market,” Moon declared in his 54-page opinion.
Steeh and Moon were both appointed by President Bill Clinton. Hudson is a nominee of President George W. Bush.