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The Affordable Care Act and the Courts: What the Experts Are Saying

Legal experts evaluate a ruling by a Florida judge on the constitutionality of the health reforms in the Affordable Care Act.

On Monday, Judge Roger Vinson issued a ruling in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The ruling comes after legal action in cases regarding the law in courts across the country. Twelve federal judges have already dismissed challenges to the constitutionality of the health reform law.  Two federal judges – in the Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Virginia – have fully upheld the law, and one federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against the individual responsibility provision but declined to bar full, continuing implementation.   

The decision issued on Monday is one district court decision, and we believe it to be very wrong.   The Department of Justice has made clear that it is reviewing all of its options in responding to this case, as it does in all cases. Implementation will continue.

Legal experts agree with our assessment of Judge Vinson’s ruling. Here’s what they are saying about the ruling and the case:

Boston College Law Professor Brian Galle:

“The ACA and its accompanying incentives to buy insurance overcome a collective action problem among states.  Thus, the ACA is easily distinguished from the court's parade of broccoli horribles; even if one thought that the federal government should deal only with uniquely national problems, the ACA easily meets that standard.”

David Engstrom, Stanford Law School Faculty Member:

“The issue that the court has ruled on has been specifically contradicted by two other district courts. So, the idea that the Obama administration should somehow stand down from implementing the act, based on a fourth district court, doesn't have any basis in law.”

NYU Constitutional Law Professor Rick Hills:

“Consider the following train wreck of Necessary & Proper reasoning contained in Judge Vinson's opinion striking down the individual mandate:

• It is a legitimate end for Congress to regulate the insurance industry to prevent "insurers from excluding or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions" (pages 60-61);
• The Individual Mandate in the ACA is "necessary" to enable Congress to regulate the insurance industry in this manner (page 63). Yet...
• "[T]he individual mandate falls outside the boundary of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority and cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers."

Huh? How can a means that is conceded to be necessary for a legitimate end not be within Congress' implied powers to pursue that end? Judge Vinson never presents even the simulacrum of an argument: Instead, he engages in hand-waving.”

George Washington University Law Professor Orin Kerr:

“I think Judge Vinson’s argument on the Necessary and Proper Clause is not persuasive…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.”

Cornell University Law Professor Mike Dorf:

“Judge Vinson appeared to base the total nonseverability decision partly on what he took to be Congressional intent.… Judge Vinson's approach ought to be especially unappealing to the Supreme Court's “textualists,” who don't even like to speculate about what Congress subjectively intended by the language it enacted.  How much worse it should be to speculate about what Congress might have done if it had known that a provision it enacted would subsequently be found invalid.”

Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Advisor.