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The post below was published on Monday, January 31st, 2011 at 5:03 PM.

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Health Care Litigation: The Insurance Mandate Is Unconstitutional

The 2010 health care legislation is unconstitutional. So declared a Northern District of Florida court today in a case pitting dozens of states against the federal government in a challenge to the high-profile legislation’s validity.

The district court ruled that the act unconstitutionally mandates citizens to purchase health insurance or face a penalty.

You can read today’s order here.

You may recall that, back in October, the same court issued this ruling, which determined that only counts I and IV of the complaint would go forward. Count I challenges the health insurance mandate, with its accompanying penalty, as unauthorized under Congress’s Commerce Clause power. Count IV challenges the act’s expansion of the Medicaid program as an improper expenditure under the Spending Clause, essentially arguing that states are being coerced to participate in a program that is becoming destructively expensive.

Today the court resolved the two pending claims and entered final judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

As to count IV, the coercion claim involving Medicaid, the court ruled that Congress has acted within its spending power.

As to count I, however, the court ruled that the insurance requirement and accompanying penalty are not within Congress’s commerce power. The court explained:

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. 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.

(citations omitted).

The court determined that under existing U.S. Supreme Court case law, the Commerce Clause permits Congress to regulate economic activity, not economic inactivity such as the decision not to purchase health insurance. The court further ruled that the law cannot be upheld under the Necessary and Proper Clause, which merely authorizes Congress to adopt laws that carry out Congress’s otherwise enumerated powers.

Finally, the court determined that the mandate cannot be severed from the act, and that as the mandate is unconstitutional, the entire health care law is as well. The court declined to enter an injunction, finding that a declaration the act is unconstitutional should suffice.

From here, the case will move to the Eleventh Circuit before wending its way to the nation’s high court.

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