Finding a key provision in the new healthcare law unconstitutional, a federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the government cannot require Americans to purchase health insurance. The ruling makes it likely that the law will end up in the Supreme Court, with a final ruling around the time of the 2012 election.
In the ruling issued on Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson found the so-called “individual mandate” provision to be unconstitutional, and that the federal government overstepped its authority in forcing people to get health insurance by 2014. Those who fail to comply with the new law will be fined.
The law’s controversial provision was intended to bring more young and healthy people into the healthcare system, who often don’t purchase insurance because their health is generally better than older people and those with preexisting conditions. Lawmakers believe that requiring those people to purchase the insurance will make it cheaper, and possible, for those with medical issues to buy their insurance. The new law prohibits insurance companies from refusing insurance to anyone because of pre-existing conditions.
Legal experts are divided on the issue of whether the law will be struck down by the Supreme Court. Even in the court system, the partisan nature of the battle is apparent. Two other federal judges, Democratic appointees, have already ruled that the mandatory insurance requirement is constitutional.
“An individual’s personal decision to purchase — or decline to purchase — health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause,” wrote Hudson, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush.
“This broad definition of economic activity subject to congressional regulation lacks logical limitation,” he continued, saying it “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.”
Critics of the ruling immediately charged that Hudson had a conflict of interest, due to his disclosed stock ownership in Campaign Solutions, a Republican public relations and communications firm. The company lists as its clients some of the most vocal opponents of the law.
The lawsuit was filed by Virginia State Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a conservative Republican, who claimed that the law violated the intent of the Constitution. “The ruling is extremely positive for anyone who believes in the system of Federalism created by our founding fathers,” Cuccinelli said. “It underscores that the Constitution’s limitations on federal power really do mean something.”