Kopel comment on states’ victory on health control lawsuit.

My comment on today’s decision, granting the motion to dismiss on some counts, and while allowing other counts to proceed. Like Randy’s comment, my comment is posted on the blog of the site Health Care Lawsuits, which is hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum.

The court entirely rejected the administration’s claim that the penalty for disobeying the mandate is justified under the federal tax power. As the court noted, Congress went out of its way to specify that the penalty is not a tax. Second, the court ruled that it is proper for the plaintiffs to be heard in their challenge to the mandate, which goes into effect in 2014. The court cited extensive precedent showing that when a future harm is certain, courts can act in the present to protect citizens from that harm. The court rejected the argument that the various employer mandates violate the constitutional sovereignty of states; as the court noted, the law simply treats states like other large employers, and so making states provide the same health benefits as other large employers must provide is no different from making states pay the same minimum wage as all other employers.

While federal spending programs may set conditions on grants to states, Supreme Court precedent states that the grants must not be coercive. Here, the court agreed that the states had raised a plausible legal argument which should be allowed to go forward:  the health control presents states with the unacceptable choice of massively increasing their own Medicaid spending on millions of more people, or of losing all funding for the traditional Medicaid program. Finally, the court agreed that the challenge to the individual mandate could go forward, because the mandate was “unprecedented.” Never before has Congress attempted to use its power of regulating interstate commerce to force people to buy a particular product. Because there is no judicial precedent in support of such a mandate, the plaintiffs had raised a plausible constitutional challenge which should be allowed to go forward.

The court’s ruling is not a final decision on the constitutional merits, but it is a solid, meticulously researched, and carefully-reasoned decision declaring that the opponents of the health control law have raised legitimate constitutional objections.