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Monday, January 31, 2011

Florida Judge Rules Against Obamacare, Injunction Denied As Unnecessary Since Entire Law Unconstitutional

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

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  1. "Only the Supreme Court (or a Constitutional amendment) can expand that."

    Funny which one of those clauses is in parentheses. I bet someone could write a book about that.

  2. As I understand it the law is null and void unless and until the ruling is overturned on appeal. What a relief!

  3. I'm delighted about the ruling, but disturbed that the Judge felt he had to apologize -- apologize! -- for declaring it unconstitutional. Good grief, Judge, don't be a freakin' wimp! You don't have to apologize for taking a stand on individual liberty.

  4. Unlike Tom Nally, I, for one, am pleased to discover the existence of a judge with the humility to apologize for undoing something, even if the "something" turned out to have been a colossal waste of time.

  5. so any ObamaCare actions taken by the adminstration are illegal going forward ?

  6. Does the Supreme Court still read election returns?

  7. The group he is apologizing to is not the defendants but the Congress that passed the act.

    Its a CYA on the part of the judge for telling his Congressional betters that they got it wrong. He probably wishes to avoid any 'fit for office' inquiries.

  8. Linked you on my post:

    It's interesting that ABC Radio News (2 p.m. PST newscast) has the story WRONG, saying that only a portion of the law is undone. Not that I am SURPRISED!


  9. Excellent ruling!!! I am personally amused that the 0 Administration has said this is "judicial overreach." They really have audacity, those leftists. They wrote the book on "overreach"!

    From what I have read thus far, the judge seems to have laid out clearly his reasoning, his justifications in law and precedent, and conclusions. Where is the "overreach" in this cogent outline?

    @Tom Nally: I believe his apology was because of the Orwellian name of the Act; it appears unseemly to make such a ruling - on the surface. I do not read in his statements that he is apologizing for logically breaking the ruling down to explain what and why he made the ruling.

    Again, these leftists have audacity, by the boatload!

  10. Clearly, this is all Palin's fault.

  11. My question is why he didn't put an injunction in place? The mandate hasn't started yet, but other portions of the law are in place already. The states still have to work towards getting the pools in place if there is no injunction. We are still paying the taxes are we not?

  12. "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." - Prof.. Jacobson

    "Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void." - Judge Vinson

    Sounds to me, from just the quotes above, that the injunction is unnecessary, as the entire Act is now declared "null and void." That means that the law is dead, and can only be made "alive" by a higher court ruling - or am I reading this wrong? (Apparently many in the media (e.g ABC and Wash. Times) are interpreting the ruling as "...just business as usual - no injunction means it is alive!....")

  13. Judge uses Obama’s words against him

    “I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that, ‘If a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,’” Judge Vinson wrote in a footnote toward the end of his 78-page ruling Monday."

    "The footnote was attached to the most critical part of Judge Vinson‘s ruling, in which he said the “principal dispute” in the case was not whether Congress has the power to tackle health care, but rather whether it has the power to compel individual citizens to purchase insurance."

    The Washington Times

  14. Judge Vinson’s Decision Has NOT Been Stayed;Obamacare “Dead in its Tracks”

    Clarice Feldman

  15. Judge Vinson's footnote #30 on page 76, hoists prez Erkel on his on petard. Seems in '08 pE argued against the very mandate he now champions. pE continues to fulfill the base politician's stereotype - a person w/o actual principle, but an insatiable drive/need to excercise power over the lives of their fellow citizens.

  16. "Today’s decision should be a major source of concern for the Obama administration for at least five reasons.

    First, the parties involved. This case involves a majority of the states (26), and the National Federation of Independent Business. If not completely unprecedented, the very fact that more than half the states marched into federal court on behalf of themselves and their citizens to challenge an unconstitutional federal program falls into the category of “beyond any recent memory.” The sheer magnitude of the parties involved guarantees that the courts on appeal will pay particular attention to this case."

    "Second, the case creates a very bad trend for the administration. Those courts which have taken the time to more fully develop the record in the case, and to have more briefing and hearings (Virginia and Florida), have ruled Obamacare unconstitutional. This is important because, contrary to the White House spin, litigation is not a scoreboard. It is not enough to say that you have won some and lost some. Some district court wins “count” more,"

    "Third, the case strikes down the whole of Obamacare based on the unconstitutionality of the mandate"

    "The fourth problem for the Obama DOJ: Judge Vinson’s decision is thorough, well-reasoned, and likely will be very persuasive to appellate judges, and eventually Justices, who review the case. He was judicious, ruling against the states on the spending clause claim and for them on the Commerce Clause."

    "The fifth problem, the Judge granted declaratory relief to the parties, which includes 26 states. Because the entire act was struck down, the future requirements to expand Medicaid programs will be suspended, at least as to these 26 states, and these states will be relieved of their obligation to make plans for such expansion in the immediate future."

    Robert Alt is a Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

    Heritage Foundation

  17. I read the ruling, and I am amazed at how well laid out and thorough the judge's argument is. However, what is the consequence for the Executive branch if they choose not to obey the federal judge's ruling, and continue to implement ObamaCare? I understand they need to request - and be granted - a stay to legally continue with its implementation. However, the Administration is posturing and commenting as though this did not rule the law "void" and that they will "continue on the same path", thus disobeying the federal law.

    Rush Limbaugh suggested that one of the plaintiffs needs to, after a certain interval, ask Judge Vinson to rule the Executive in contempt if they don't obey the ruling.

    My question is: Should Obama, the Executive, choose - as his spokespeople currently state - to disregard the ruling and continue implementing ObamaCare, and disobey the law, would that be a "high crime and misdemeanor"? Is contempt of federal court a misdemeanor - or a high crime?

  18. Thank you for sharing this. I am hoping this is the beginning of the end for Obamacare, although we have a long way to go to unravel a bill that had been rushed through so quickly. But knowledge is power, as pointed out by Deane Waldman, MD MBA in his book, Uproot U.S. Healthcare: To Reform Healthcare, which contains eye opening facts about how we arrived at such a 'sick' place in our system with empowering ideas on how to fix it.

  19. As I correct in "assuming" an injunction would be forthcoming if The Anointed One disregards the judge's ruling and continues with His fiasco?

  20. Democrats Made Huge Mistake Not Putting Severability In ObamaCare

    "MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell asked liberal constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley Tuesday if the Democrats made a mistake not writing a severability clause into the law. Turley surprisingly answered, "It was a colossal mistake"

    "the Democrats really laid themselves open in how they drafted this act. Judge Vinson is not, you know, totally out of line in saying that severability was put at issue when they did not include the clause. The interesting thing is the severability clause was in an earlier draft of the legislation and was removed."

    "The question of severability in the legal sense will play an important part of the appeals process, up to the Supreme Court sooner or later. The bigger question will be whether President Obama and his party will have any political severability from Obamacare if the Supreme Court overturns it on an expedited review."

    "Obama injected himself into the Court's politics when he foolishly decided to admonish them during his 2010 State of the Union address. As a result, Justice Samuel Alito joined Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in not attending this year's SOTU.

    As all you need are four Justices to hear the case, it seems almost a metaphysical certitude one of the remaining six will join Alito, Scalia and Thomas especially as this is going to be a political issue whenever the Court chooses to hear it."

    "If they decide to tackle the inevitable sooner rather than later, the White House and its Democratic allies will face two outcomes: either a fired-up electorate like in 2010, or massive egg on their faces and … a fired-up electorate. There will be no severability from ObamaCare either way."

    Noel Sheppard

  21. ObamaCare After Judge Vinson’s Ruling

    "I gather from the press accounts that [Vinson] entered a declaratory judgment—a declaration that the law is unconstitutional--not an injunction. If you don’t comply with an injunction, you’re in contempt of court. By contrast, you can “violate” a declaratory judgment with impunity. But in practice parties do not defy DJs. The reason is that, once a DJ had been entered, the person who got it can go back to court and get an injunction automatically, on the basis of the DJ. A DJ is often used against the government, because the court does not want to suggest that the government has to be threatened with contempt. The idea is: I (judge) know that you (government official) will comply once I tell you what the law is; I don’t have to order you to comply.

    If he had entered an injunction, the US would immediately have sought a “stay pending appeal.” That means the injunction can’t be enforced while the case is on appeal. The US would seek the stay from him; if he denied it, from the 11th Circuit; if the 11th Circuit denied it—which would be inconceivable, in this case, in my view--from the S. Ct. Technically, a DJ does not have to be stayed, because it doesn’t require the US to do anything. But my guess is that the US will seek a stay anyway, just to make things clear. There is a risk that if the US seeks a stay, and the court of appeals says “we’re not granting a stay, because you don’t need it, since this is only a DJ” then that will be portrayed as a loss for the US."

    The New Republic