Vinson Goes The Whole Taco

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

I am not, with this post, going to attempt a detailed exposition on Judge Vinson’s ruling that declared the individual mandate unconstitutional and, due to the lack of a severability clause, struck the whole law as unconstitutional. But I will give you a brief overview and direct you to other good sources.

Here are the basics you will need to start your day.

First, you need to understand that the case before Judge Vinson was not directed at whether the federal government can involve itself in healthcare. Instead, the case was whether the individual mandate is constitutional.

The individual mandate is the keystone to the whole legislation. Without it, the funding mechanisms of the law collapse in on themselves. Judge Vinson ruled that forcing people to buy healthcare insurance, whether they want it or not, is unconstitutional.

Ilya Shapiro at Cato:

In short, if I read the opinion (plus this final judgment) correctly — quite apart from both the lofty philosophical principles I applaud Judge Vinson for adopting and the nitty-gritty technical details of his individual mandate analysis — Obamacare is dead in its tracks.  Now, Judge Vinson himself or the Eleventh Circuit (or even the Supreme Court) may issue an emergency stay of this or any other part of the ruling, but as of right now, the federal government must stop implementing Obamacare.

Aaron Worthing at Patterico:

Well, go ahead, see what happens if you try to implement Obamacare without actually overturning the decision.

And notice that term “activism.”  The correct translation when a liberal says it is “a decision I don’t like.” There is no other definition for liberals.  They don’t mind cases that overturn precedents, that overturn federal laws, and that invent rights out of thin air.  Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that the judge’s opinion is supported by the constitution or precedent—they have no principled objection to that.  So their objection is merely to losing.

And meanwhile anonymous White House officials had this to say:

White House officials said that sort of “surpassingly curious reading” called into question Judge Vinson‘s entire ruling.

“There’s something thoroughly odd and unconventional about the analysis,” said a White House official who briefed reporters late Monday afternoon, speaking on condition of anonymity.

David Bernstein:

Hmm. I think it’s a bit curious that the White House would send an “anonymous” official to criticize the ruling of an Article III judge, and surpassingly curious that a gaggle of reporters would agree to respect the aide’s anonymity in exchange for the “anonymous” quotes.
Shouldn’t the reporters either tell the official to go on the record, or refuse to take part in a “briefing” that amounts to simply a colorful attack on an unfavorable opinion?

Orin Kerr:

Now let’s return to Judge Vinson’s analysis of the Necessary & Proper Clause. The words of the relevant Supreme Court cases point to an extremely broad power, and Judge Vinson is supposed to be bound by those words. But Judge Vinson concludes that these words can’t be taken at face value because “to uphold [the mandate] via application of the Necessary and Proper Clause would [be to] . . . effectively remove all limits on federal power.” Page 62. He writes:

[T]he Commerce Clause limitations on the federal government’s power would definitely be compromised by this assertion of federal power via the Necessary and Proper Clause. . . . .The defendants have asserted again and again that the individual mandate is absolutely “necessary” and “essential” for the Act to operate as it was intended by Congress. I accept that it is. Nevertheless, the individual mandate falls outside the boundary of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority and cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers. By definition, it cannot be “proper.”

This might work as a Supreme Court opinion that can disagree with precedent. But Judge Vinson is just a District Court judge. And if you pair Justice Thomas’s dissent in Raich with Judge Vinson’s opinion today, you realize the problem: Judge Vinson is reasoning that existing law must be a particular way because he thinks it should be that way as a matter of first principles, not because the relevant Supreme Court doctrine actually points that way. Remember that in Raich, the fact that the majority opinion gave the federal government the power to “regulate virtually anything” was a reason for Justice Thomas to dissent. In Judge Vinson’s opinion, however, the fact that the government’s theory gave the federal government the power to “regulate virtually anything” was a reason it had to be inconsistent with precedent.

Obviously, I’m not arguing that Judge Vinson was bound by Justice Thomas’s dissent. Rather, my point is that Judge Vinson should not have used a first principle to trump existing Supreme Court caselaw when that principle may not be consistent with existing caselaw. Either Justice Thomas is wrong or Judge Vinson is wrong, and Judge Vinson was not making a persuasive legal argument when he followed the first principle instead of the cases. Because Judge Vinson is bound by Supreme Court precedent, I would think he should have applied the cases.

Anyway, I realize this argument will only resonate with readers who care about binding precedent, which at times seems like a vanishingly small group of readers. But it does seem to be the weak link in Judge Vinson’s opinion for the three of us who are interested in whether the decision is correct under existing law.

UPDATE: I closed the comment thread, as it featured the same commenters making the same comments that they have each made several dozen times before.

ANOTHER UPDATE: My co-blogger Ilya Somin defends Judge Vinson by pointing out that the Supreme Court’s majority opinions insist that the federal government does not have completely unlimited power. Ilya’s argument is unpersuasive because the existence of nonzero limits in no way implies the existence of major limits. The current state of Commerce Clause doctrine is that there are certain largely symbolic limits on federal power but those limits are relatively minor: As Justice Thomas put it, Congress can regulate virtually anything.  Judge Vinson says that this cannot be the law because it would make the federal government too powerful. But Judge Vinson does not consult existing doctrine before declaring the principle, and that’s the problem: If you take existing doctrine seriously, it readily fits the mandate under the Necessary and Proper clause.

Peter Suderman at Reason

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Based on existing Supreme Court precedents, Judge Vinson’s opinion strikes me as well-reasoned. But this case is different from any that have yet come before the Court, and the Court could go either way. The final decision will be essentially political.

While everyone purports to agree in principle that our federal government is one of limited, enumerated powers, the true liberal position is that there are no limits at all on what the federal government can do, except as set forth in the Bill of Rights. Thus, the delineation of the role and powers of the national government, as laid out in the main body of the Constitution, is ignored. On the other hand, the amendments are selectively given an expansive reading where necessary to prevent the government from doing something that liberals do not think is appropriate (e.g., enforcing laws against abortion). Affirming Obamacare would represent a new high-water mark for that philosophy.

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