Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Not even a close call"

If you are looking for a sense as to where this litigation is headed--at least with respect to the minimum coverage requirement--there is one sentence, on page 61 of Judge Vinson's opinion, that pretty much captures it. After laying out the competing arguments as to whether ACA 1501(b) is within Congress's commerce power, he states as follows: "At this stage in the litigation, this is not even a close call."

Judge Vinson goes on to explain that the individual mandate is "simply without prior precedent" (p.61), and that, unlike statutes upheld by the Supreme Court in prior Commerce Clause decisions cited by the federal government (such as Heart of Atlanta Motel and Wickard), this regulation "is not based on an activity that [people] make the choice to undertake" (p.63). In other words, Judge Vinson sees this as a regulation of inactivity, and thus one that is qualitatively different from prior uses of the commerce power (as augmented by the Necessary and Proper Clause). Moreover, he finds it highly salient that those regulated by 1501 (that is, all legal residents) have not taken some sort of voluntary action (such as entering the motel business, or growing wheat, for example) before being subjected to the provision's requirement. Seeing the minimum coverage requirement in these terms, I think, is probably going about 75 percent of the way towards finding it unconstitutional.

Mind you, Judge Vinson concludes by stating that he is holding only that the states have "stated a plausible claim." (p. 64). But the reasoning behind his conclusion--not to mention the modifier "most definitely" that precedes it--gives one the sense that, following the coming motions for summary judgment, the odds are in favor of the court declaring the minimum coverage provision unconstitutional.