Florida HCR Challengers Win on Commerce Clause Argument

January 31, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – The federal judge in Florida hearing the health care reform challenge involving a cadre of states has declared the law unconstitutional because it impermissibly used the Commerce Clause to regulate inactivity rather than activity.

The holding by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida accepted a key argument by many who have tried to knock down the controversial health reform statute – that lawmakers enacting the “individual mandate” requiring most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty had gone beyond their constitutional bounds in adopting it.  

Significantly, Vinson ruled that the entire reform statute would become invalid if appellate courts – most likely ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court – agree with his reasoning but that it will remain in effect until that time.

Vinson accepted the arguments of HCR challengers that allowing Congress to use the Commerce Clause to regulate inactivity (in this case not having insurance) would wildly extend lawmakers’ powers into areas of public life the framers never dreamed of.

“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 an 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” it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted,” Vinson wrote.

Vinson continued: “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 for it would be “difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power” and we would have a Constitution in name only. Surely this is not what the Founding Fathers could have intended.”

The case on which Vinson ruled has 26 states, two private citizens and the National Federation of Independent Businesses as plaintiffs.

Also in the ruling, Vinson held the states of Virginia, Idaho and Utah had proper legal standing to bring the challenge because of contrary laws in those states and that with that finding, it was not necessary to find that any other state had standing.

The Vinson ruling is here