A federal judge in Michigan Thursday ruled that the health-overhaul law is constitutional, dismissing a suit brought by the Thomas More Law Center, which has vowed to appeal.
Judge George C. Steeh of Federal District Court in Detroit, who was appointed by former President Clinton, decided the individual mandate is needed to compel Americans to obtain health insurance. He based his decision on the fact that other provisions of the law — such as requiring health insurers to sell policies to all comers and coverage for pre-existing conditions — make the individual mandate necessary.
Steeh said that without the individual mandate, consumers would have every incentive to wait until they get sick to buy coverage. (But that already is happening in Massachusetts even with the state’s individual mandate, which has stricter enforcement provisions than Obamacare.)
“In turn, this would aggravate current problems with cost-shifting and lead to even higher premiums,” Steeh wrote. (Ditto, Massachusetts.) “The prospect of driving the insurance market into extinction led Congress to find that the minimum coverage provision was essential to the larger regulatory scheme of the Act,” he wrote.
This is doubling down on a bad law, saying you need one unconstitutional mandate to protect people from its other adverse consequences. The correct ruling would be that the whole thing should be repealed to avoid both the unconstitutionality and destruction that Obamacare already is leaving in its wake.
This is the first ruling in more than 15 legal challenges against the law. Two other cases with higher profiles, one in Florida and one in Virginia, also are challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the reach of the federal government’s power through the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
The central question, which surely will go before the U.S. Supreme Court, is whether the Commerce Clause gives Congress the authority to require citizens to buy a commercial product, namely health insurance, with their own personal funds.
The judge in the Florida lawsuit, which was filed by elected officials in 20 states and the National Federation of Independent Business, is expected to allow a hearing on some aspects of the case in December. The Virginia case, brought by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is scheduled for a hearing Oct. 18.
Published in National Review Online: Critical Condition, Oct. 8, 2010.