Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Vinson Decision

Yesterday's ruling in federal court by Judge Roger Vinson will become a landmark opinion which will ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court. (the full ruling is available as a click through on the word ruling in the first sentence.)  The opinion is 78 pages and worth reading in its entirety. It begins with the quote from Federalist #51, Madison's discussion of the need to limit the scope of government. "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

Madison deeply understood the limited nature of government and the need to limit the expansionist tendencies of government.   In attempting to defend the bill the Justice Department had argued that by not participating in a health insurance program that individuals could shift cost to the rest of us through the cost shifting that occurs when uninsured individuals get sick and use the health system.  There is some logic to that position.  But if the case can be made that there is no direction in the constitution to create a health care system, then the logic falls.   Vinson caught the notion of limitation in the following “It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause.” If Congress has such power, he continued, “it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.” (as quoted in the New York Times).

Obviously, the decisions so far have been split on the issue, with some adopting the notion that the healthcare bill is within the scope of the Commerce Clause and some arguing that it is not.  But Vinson's decision is more comprehensive suggesting that the issue of compelling individuals to purchase a specific product is beyond the scope of the clause and therefore the entire bill is unconstitutional.   As a reminder, in the enumerated powers (Article 1, Section 8) Congress is given the authority to " regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes"   From my perspective the logic of the Administration in mandating purchase of a specific product (in this case health insurance) is a huge stretch.   But there are a couple of more chapters in this fight before we will know how the Supreme court will rule.

1 comment:

Chris Taus said...

Obviously this will eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court, but the scholarly ruling by Judge Vinson was well crafted and a real boost to overturning the law. Actually, you now have to say it HAS been overturned, in its entirety, and only a successful series of appeals can save it, absent Congressional action.