Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Right-wing Republican judge rules health-care law unconstitutional

So what else is new?

Republican-appointed judges, embracing conservative judicial activism (even if they would deny it), are ruling against the Affordable Care Act and basing their decisions on spurious legal reasoning:

A second federal judge ruled on Monday that it was unconstitutional for Congress to enact a health care law that required Americans to obtain commercial insurance, evening the score at 2 to 2 in the lower courts as conflicting opinions begin their path to the Supreme Court.

But unlike a Virginia judge in December, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., concluded that the insurance requirement was so "inextricably bound" to other provisions of the Affordable Care Act that its unconstitutionality required the invalidation of the entire law.

"The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker," Judge Vinson wrote.

How odd that Vinson's words are a metaphorical version of the standard Republican talking point -- repeal and reform, even if Republicans have no alternative plan and no intention of introducing one anytime soon. (It's important to note, too, that Vinson based his decision to a great extent on the views of the right-wing, theocratic Family Research Council, hardly an impartial source.)

Ultimately, the law will be reviewed by the Supreme Court, so it doesn't much matter how these lower courts rule. Although, of course, the Supreme Court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, is partisan and, when it wants to be, activist. (Kennedy will likely be the swing vote, as usual.)

But Steve Benen makes some excellent points in putting this latest ruling into perspective:

First Update: Note that when Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia, a Bush appointee, reached a similar conclusion in December, in a ruling that no one seemed to think made any sense, he said the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but left the rest of the law intact. Reagan appointee Vinson, however, took a far more activist approach, striking down a massive piece of legislation because of one provision.

Republicans are thrilled, of course, because activist court rulings are to be celebrated, just so long as it's activism the right can agree with. 

Second Update: It's also worth emphasizing that two Republican-appointed federal district court judges have now found that the individual mandate -- an idea Republicans came up with -- is unconstitutional. And while that's important, let's not forget two other federal district court judges, appointed by Democratic presidents, came to the opposite conclusion.

Indeed, overall, about a dozen federal courts have dismissed challenges to the health care law.

In other words, when you hear on the news that "courts" have a problem with the Affordable Care Act, remember that it's actually a minority of the judges who've heard cases related to the law.

Aside from the obvious activism on display here, that last point is crucial. Only two judges, both Republican-appointed, have ruled against the mandate (the second also against the entire piece of legislation). The media focus disproportionately on these negative rulings, rulings that would seem to validate the Republican position, but the reality is that the law, including the mandate, has thus far been upheld everywhere else.

There's hardly any guarantee that the Supreme Court will uphold the law, but claims of the Affordable Care Act's demise are greatly exaggerated.

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  • The momentum is slowly building; it may take a while longer, but our country will see the return of constitutional rule of law!

    By Anonymous Chris Taus, at 8:38 PM  

  • The point is, if these people don't get insurance, they crowd into emergency rooms that the state pays for. That means YOU PAY FOR THEM WITH YOUR TAXES! Some billionair­e WalMart guy is getting richer by dumping their employees health care, and YOU AND I GET THE BILL.

    By Anonymous Idi Amin, at 9:38 PM  

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