By now, assuming you do not live under a rock and are not in a coma of some sort, you’ve likely heard that a federal judge in Florida ruled against the constitutionality of the federal healthcare reform bill on Monday. District Court Judge Roger Vinson found that the individual mandate was not within Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause and that it was not supported by the Necessary & Proper clause either. He then found that the mandate provision was not severable from the rest of the act, and, thus, he struck down the entire law as unconstitutional. You can read the full ruling here.
I expect to have more on this issue and this opinion in the near future, but there were two things I wanted to address today before they slipped through the cracks.
First, with all due respect, Judge Vinson’s Necessary-and-Proper analysis is flawed. He argues that no measure can be necessary and proper if it violates another section of the Constitution. On its face, that seems reasonable enough. The problem is that, in this context, the mandate does not “violate” the commerce clause in the way that, say, censorship violates the First Amendment. Rather, under Judge Vinson’s ruling, the mandate is simply not supported by the commerce clause (i.e. the scope of the commerce clause does not extend to the actions of the mandate). Taken to its logical end, if one accepts Vinson’s interpretation, no action that was not supported by the Commerce Clause could ever be supported as necessary and proper. Except we know that’s not the case; such a reading would fly in the face of decades of Supreme Court decisions and would render the Necessary and Proper Clause meaningless.
My second comment stems not from the decision, but from the local reaction to it. Professor David Meeks (of the Faulkner County Meekses) chimed in shortly after the ruling was handed down, opining in his trademarked grammatically challenged way:
I applaud the judges [sic] ruling and once again shows the bill I filed is Constitutional and should be passed into law.
Unpacking this thing in order:
1. “Once again shows” implies that something had previously shown this bill to be Constitutional. That is simply not the case. If Meeks is referring to the judge in Virginia who struck down the mandate, then I point to the two judges in other states that upheld it. Considering none of those judges was in Arkansas, nor was Arkansas party to any of the suits, none of those decisions is dispositive here.
2. Whether the individual mandate is Constitutional does not change that Meeks ‘proposed bill is unconstitutional as of right now.
3. Likewise, if it turns out that the Supreme Court does overturn the mandate, then, as I’ve stated before, Meeks’ bill was wholly unnecessary and would have been without effect , which pretty much makes the “should be passed into law” incorrect. Unless Meeks thinks we need a bunch of laws that do nothing.