In the most significant legal defeat to date of President Obama and the Democratic Congress’ health care reform legislation, federal Judge Henry Hudson, of the Eastern District of Virginia, ruled it was unconstitutional for the federal government to force individuals to purchase health insurance, which was the linchpin of Obama’s signature domestic piece of legislation commonly referred to as “ObamaCare.”
In a 42-page opinion, Judge Hudson wrote that “neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market. In doing so, [the individual mandate provision] exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I”
In a press conference two hours after Hudson issued his decision, Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who has often been referred to as someone who was the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party, said, “This lawsuit is not about health care, it is about liberty,” embracing a theme that fueled the Tea Party movement and endeared Cuccinelli to it.
Cuccinelli, who filed the suit against the federal government on behalf of the state of Virginia, referred to Hudson’s reasoning in his opinion that “at its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”
Though Cuccinelli asked for broad injunctive relief, which would have prohibited the federal government from enforcing the individual mandate in Virginia during the appeals process, Hudson merely granted declaratory relief. Cuccinelli stated that since the federal government will not attempt to enforce a law a court has deemed to be unconstitutional, that declaratory relief was sufficient to prevent Virginians from being forced to purchase health insurance they otherwise may not have wanted to purchase.
What made this case unique — and more limited in scope than some of the other pending suits against ObamaCare — was that Cuccinelli was able to bring this case because he was statutorily obligated to do so under Virginia’s Healthcare Freedom Act, which passed with bipartisan support in the Virginia state legislature — unlike the partisan way in which ObamaCare was passed. At the time, Virginia was the only state to have such a law on the books.
That act made it illegal for any Virginian to be forced to buy health insurance and obligated Virginia’s attorney general to challenge any attempt by the federal government to do so.
Republican Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who signed The Healthcare Freedom Act into law, urged the U.S. Department of Justice to join with Cuccinelli to support the fast-tracking of this case directly to the Supreme Court in order to establish a sense of clarity on ObamaCare as soon as possible.
In a statement released soon after Hudson’s decision, McDonnell said he has also asked “all governors and governors-elect to join me in a letter to United States Attorney General Eric Holder asking for his agreement to an expedited review.”
“There must be certainty and finality in order for our businesses and citizens to both know and adhere to the law,” McDonnell said. By traditional measures, Cuccinelli said the U.S. Department of Justice would likely appeal this ruling to an appeals court before the case would go to the Supreme Court. Cuccinelli expected this process would take about two years. If the appeals court process is bypassed, as McDonnell and other prominent Republicans such as Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor have urged, this issue could be resolved in a year.
There are more than 20 different suits pending against ObamaCare.
A Florida judge will hear oral arguments in a case on Thursday. According to Cuccinelli, the fact that so many attorneys general are bringing suit against the federal government in relation to ObamaCare “speaks to the severity of the breach to the constitutional balance” that ObamaCare symbolizes.