ObamaCare in Court

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A Florida judge allows the major state lawsuit to proceed to trial.

Even the legal left now grudgingly concedes that the constitutional challenges to ObamaCare aren’t frivolous, and an important decision in Florida yesterday shows why. Federal District Judge Roger Vinson refused to throw out the core challenge to the law made by 20 state Attorneys General and other plaintiffs, overruling the arguments by the Obama Justice Department.

The lawsuit’s bedrock claim is that ObamaCare’s individual mandate that people buy health insurance or else pay a penalty exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause, while Justice contended that this is nothing out of the ordinary. But as Judge Vinson writes in his 65-page ruling, “this is not even a close call. . . . The power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent.”

Congress is attempting to regulate not interstate commerce but economic inactivity by requiring individuals to purchase a private product “based solely on citizenship and on being alive.” Judge Vinson ruled that the plaintiffs “have at least stated a plausible claim that the line has been crossed” concerning the outermost bounds of federal power under the Constitution.

He also undertook some useful spadework into the legislative and political history of ObamaCare as to whether the individual mandate counts as a “penalty” or a “tax.” Liberals are now arguing that the mandate is permissible under the broader taxing powers for the general welfare, despite vehemently denying this notion before the bill passed—including President Obama’s claim on national TV that he “absolutely” rejected the argument that the penalty is a tax.

But Judge Vinson notes that legally there are “clear, important, and well-established differences between the two,” and in a meticulous examination of the plain language of the bill itself he finds that it “contains no indication that Congress was exercising its taxing authority or that it meant for the penalty to be regarded as a tax.” He pointedly notes that defenders of the law can’t now take the “‘Alice in Wonderland’ tack” of claiming that Congress really meant something else.

The legal upshot is that Justice lawyers will have to defend the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, and Judge Vinson’s ruling seems to indicate that they will need better arguments than they’ve made so far. And rightly so, given the violence ObamaCare does to the government of limited and enumerated powers as envisioned in Article I. Oral arguments will be heard in December.