There has been a lot of smart commentary on the decision yesterday to “void” the health care bill (popularly known as Obamacare). Powerline picks out a few nice quotes from Judge Vinson:
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” [see Act § 1501(a)(1)], it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted. … 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” [Lopez, supra, 514 U.S. at 564], and we would have a Constitution in name only.
Because I find both the “uniqueness” and “economic decision” arguments unpersuasive, I conclude that the individual mandate seeks to regulate economic inactivity, which is the very opposite of economic activity. And because activity is required under the Commerce Clause, the individual mandate exceeds Congress’ commerce power, as it is understood, defined, and applied in the existing Supreme Court case law.
The Commerce Clause originally applied to the trade and exchange of goods as it sought to eliminate trade barriers by and between the states. Over the years, the Clause’s reach has been expanded from covering actual interstate commerce (and its channels and instrumentalities) to intrastate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. It has even been applied to activities that involve the mere consumption of a product (even if there is no legal commercial interstate market for that product). To now hold that Congress may regulate the so-called “economic decision” to not purchase a product or service in anticipation of future consumption is a “bridge too far.” It is without logical limitation and far exceeds the existing legal boundaries established by Supreme Court precedent.
Striking down the law was easy in some respects because of the severability:
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. “Where Congress includes [particular] language in an earlier version of a bill but deletes it prior to enactment, it may be presumed that the [omitted provision] was not intended.” Russello v. United States, 464 U.S. 16, 23-24, 104 S. Ct. 296, 78 L. Ed. 2d 17 (1983). In other words, the severability lause 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.” See CRS Analysis, supra, at 3. 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.
Looks like the Congress, with Obama, are to blame for this omission. Why not include a severability clause? And how can inactivity be activity? If the case is going to be declared constitutional, the administration is going to have to come up with better arguments. I also have to concur about Ezra Klein’s arguments which seem weak at best since the Constitution, by his own words, is impossible to understand. And if it differs from person to person, under the Klein standard, Judge Vinson’s opinions are as valid as anyone else.