Federal Judge Rejects Commerce Clause Argument, Finds PPACA Health Insurance Individual Mandate is Unconstitutional

Federal Judge Rejects Commerce Clause Argument, Finds PPACA Health Insurance Individual Mandate is Unconstitutional

RICHMOND, Va. -- (Mealey's) A Virginia federal judge on Dec. 13 held that the individual mandate contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is unconstitutional and severed it from the rest of the act; the judge denied the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief (Commonwealth of Virginia Ex Rel. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II v. Kathleen Sebelius, No. 10-188, E.D. Va.).

Health Care Reform

In finding the minimum essential coverage provision unconstitutional, U.S. Judge Henry E. Hudson of the Eastern District of Virginia held in the commonwealth's challenge to the act that "[n]either 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."

By enacting the provision, Congress exceeded the powers granted to it under the Constitution, Judge Hudson said.

Further, because an individual's personal decision to purchase health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution does not provide sanctuary, Judge Hudson said.

The necessary and proper clause grants Congress broad authority to pass laws in furtherance of its constitutionally enumerated powers, and the minimum essential coverage provision is "neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution," Judge Hudson said.

The judge also rejected the alternate argument that the provision is a valid exercise of Congress' independent taxation power under the general welfare clause of the Constitution, saying "the notion that the generation of revenue was a significant legislative objective is a transparent afterthought.  The legislative purpose underlying this provision was purely regulation of what Congress misperceived to be economic activity."

Judge Hudson said that the provision is severable from the balance of the PPACA but declined to grant injunctive relief, saying that the award of declaratory judgment is sufficient, pending appellate review.

In the case, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli sued Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in her official capacity, alleging that the PPACA conflicts with Virginia Code Section 38.2-3430.1:1 and that a main provision of the PPACA requiring that most Americans without insurance obtain coverage or face a penalty is unconstitutional.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the Dec. 15 issue of Mealey's Managed Care Liability Report.  In the meantime, the opinion is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #31-101215-027Z.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]

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