Virginia Judge Rules Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

Published May 31, 2016

Federal Judge Henry Hudson released his ruling in the first state case against President Obama’s health care law, finding the individual mandate within the law unconstitutional.

In the case of Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Kathleen Sebelius, Hudson found in favor of the Commonwealth, writing in a ruling released December 13 that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance “exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.”

“The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers,” Hudson wrote. “At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance—or crafting a scheme of universal health coverage—it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.”

‘It’s About Liberty’

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who led the arguments of the Commonwealth in the case, hailed the victory as a significant step.

“This case isn’t about health insurance. It isn’t about health care. It’s about liberty,” said Cuccinelli. “I am gratified we prevailed. This won’t be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution.”

Hudson’s decision will be the first of several to come in continuing lawsuits against Obama’s law. The case advanced rapidly following Virginia’s passage of a Health Freedom Act through a bipartisan vote of the General Assembly. The act, which blocked any legal requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance, set the stage for a state-backed challenge to Obama’s mandate.

Not a Clean Sweep

Hudson upheld the federal government’s arguments in two key areas, however. He denied the Commonwealth’s request for injunctive relief, since the individual mandate to purchase insurance doesn’t go into effect until 2014. Hudson also presumed severability of the individual mandate, striking down only that portion of the law—a key item of debate since the Obamacare law did not have a severability clause written into it.

Hudson denied nearly all the federal government’s other arguments in favor of the mandate, including taxation authority.

“Salutary goals and creative drafting have never been sufficient to offset an absence of enumerated powers,” Hudson wrote.

Capitol Hill Greets Decision

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which will provide oversight over the health care law, welcomed the decision.

“While the legal fights over the health care law are just beginning, our Committee will vigorously weigh in and assert our oversight authority to ensure that the federal government is returned to its properly limited role,” Upton said. “Our top priority in the new Congress will be repealing the job-killing health care law.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) called for Obama to allow the case to go directly to the Supreme Court.

“To ensure an expedited process moving forward, I call on President Obama and Attorney General Holder to join Attorney General Cuccinelli in requesting that this case be sent directly to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Cantor said in a statement. “In this challenging environment, we must not burden our states, employers, and families with the costs and uncertainty created by this unconstitutional law, and we must take all steps to resolve this issue immediately.”

Benjamin Domenech ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.