Judge Roger Vinson's January 2011 Declaration of PPACA as Unconstitutional

Last Updated on April 16, 2022 by Lee Burnett, DO, FAAFP

[The Question and Answer session of the first plenary session of the Twenty-Second National Conference on Primary Health Care Access included the question that if a part of PPACA (such as the health insurance mandate) is declared unconstitutional, whether the entire act would be set aside. Because of the relevance of Judge Roger Vinson’s January 2011, the following excerpt, comprising the conclusion of Judge Vinson’s findings, is included as a supplement to the plenary discussion.]

Case No.: 3:10-cv-91-RV/EMT


Senior United States Judge Roger Vinson

The existing problems in our national health care system are recognized by everyone in this case. There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford. This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution. Again, this case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government.

For the reasons stated, I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceededthe bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case.

The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here [See footnote 30, below].

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” As Judge Luttig wrote for an en banc Fourth Circuit in striking down the “Violence Against Women Act” (before the case was appealed and the Supreme Court did the same):

No less for judges than for politicians is the temptation to affirm any statute so decorously titled. We live in a time when the lines between law and politics have been purposefully blurred to serve the ends of the latter. And, when we, as courts, have not participated in this most perniciously machiavellian of enterprises ourselves, we have acquiesced in it by others, allowing opinions of law to be dismissed as but pronouncements of personal agreement or disagreement. The judicial decision making contemplated by the Constitution, however, unlike at least the politics of the moment, emphatically is not a function of labels. If it were, the Supreme Court assuredly would not have struck down the “Gun-Free School Zones Act,” the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the “Civil Rights Act of 1871,” or the “Civil Rights Act of 1875.” And if it ever becomes such, we will have ceased to be a society of law, and all the codification of freedom in the world will be to little avail. (Brzonkala, supra, 169 F.3d at 889. )

In closing, I will simply observe, once again, that my conclusion in this case is based on an application of the Commerce Clause law as it exists pursuant to the Supreme Court’s current interpretation and definition. Only the Supreme Court (or a Constitutional amendment) can expand that.

For all the reasons stated above and pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment (doc. 80) is hereby GRANTED as to its request for declaratory relief on Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, and DENIED as to its request for injunctive relief; and the defendants’ motion for summary judgment (doc. 82) is hereby GRANTED on Count IV of the Second Amended Complaint. The respective cross-motions are each DENIED.

In accordance with Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Title 28, United States Code, Section 2201(a), a Declaratory Judgment shall be entered separately, declaring “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” unconstitutional.

DONE and ORDERED this 31st day of January, 2011.

Case No.: 3:10-cv-91-RV/EMT

/s/ Roger Vinson

ROGER VINSON Senior United States District Judge

[Footnote 30] On this point, it should be emphasized that while the individual mandate was clearly “necessary and essential” to the Act as drafted, it is not “necessary and essential” to health care reform in general. It is undisputed that there are various other (Constitutional) ways to accomplish what Congress wanted to do. Indeed, I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that “if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.”

See Interview on CNN’s American Morning, Feb. 5, 2008, transcript available at: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0802/05/ltm.02.html. In fact, he pointed to the similar individual mandate in Massachusetts — which was imposed under the state’s police power, a power the federal government does not have — and opined that the mandate there left some residents “worse off” than they had been before. See Christopher Lee, Simple Question Defines Complex Health Debate, Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2008, at A10 (quoting Senator Obama as saying: “In some cases, there are people [in Massachusetts] who are paying fines and still can’t afford [health insurance], so now they’re worse off than they were . . . They don’t have health insurance, and they’re paying a fine . . .”).

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