Legal Craziness

All of the ups and downs of the Healthcare Affordability Act make it somewhat dizzying. Here’s the latest from DK:

Reagan appointee Roger Vinson today struck down what appears to be most of the Affordable Care Act, writing:

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.”

In writing the law, Dems did not include a severability clause, “meant to protect the bulk of a law in the event that a small portion of it is determined to be unconstitutional. That small portion must go, or be changed, but pretty much everything else is allowed to stand.” Thus, presumably, by finding the mandate unconstitutional, Vinson decided to rule against the bulk of the law.

This was the case brought by 26 states, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority in the mandate. Vinson joins a George W. Bush appointee, Henry Hudson in finding the mandate unconstitutional. Hudson’s ruling has been roundly criticized.

At least 14 other judges have dismissed challenges to the Affordable Care Act. As Ian Millhiser writes, it’s not likely Hudson’s and Vinson’s rulings would stand a Supreme Court challenge. Millhiser also gives a quick summary of previous lower court decisions against sweeping federal actions that bit the dust.

  • Minimum Wage: In United States v. Darby, the Supreme Court upheld a federal minimum wage and overruled  a prior decision striking down federal child labor laws. This decision reversed a district judge’s opinion declaring the minimum wage unconstitutional.
  • Social Security: In Helvering v. Davis, the Supreme Court reversed a court of appeals decision declaring Social Security unconstitutional.
  • Whites-Only Lunch Counters: In Katzenbach v. McClung, the Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters — reversing a district court’s decision striking down this law.
  • Voting Rights Act: In Katzenbach v. Morgan, the Supreme Court reversed a district court decision striking down a portion of the Voting Rights Act (the Court since stepped back from the reasoning applied in Morgan, but the Voting Rights Act remains good law).

The opinion is available here.

Update: Brian Beutler notes that voiding the entire law over the lack of a severability clause is extreme, and unnecessary–even without the clause, single provisions of laws can be struck down. And have been, including recently by Judge John Roberts.