BREAKING – Eleventh Circuit Declares Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

The Reuters story is here.  Opinion should be available soon on the Eleventh Circuit’s website.

UPDATE: The very lengthy opinion is here.  The court split 2-1.  Judges Hull and Dubina jointly issued the opinion of the court.  Judge Marcus dissented.  The court concludes the mandate cannot be justified under either the taxing power or commerce power, but that the mandate is severable from the rest of the health care reform law.  The court also rejects the argument that the law’s expansion of Medicaid is unconstitutionally coercive to the states.  Of note, the court did not split completely along partisan lines.  Judge Dubina was nominated by President George H.W. Bush.  Judges Hall and Marcus were nominated by President Bill Clinton.

UPDATE: The opinion concludes:

We first conclude that the Act’s Medicaid expansion is constitutional. Existing Supreme Court precedent does not establish that Congress’s inducements are unconstitutionally coercive, especially when the federal government will bear nearly all the costs of the program’s amplified enrollments.

Next, the individual mandate was enacted as a regulatory penalty, not a revenue-raising tax, and cannot be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Taxing and Spending Clause. The mandate is denominated as a penalty in the Act itself, and the legislative history and relevant case law confirm this reading of its function.

Further, the individual mandate exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power and is unconstitutional. This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives. We have not found any generally applicable, judicially enforceable limiting principle that would permit us to uphold the mandate without obliterating the boundaries inherent in the system of enumerated congressional powers. “Uniqueness” is not a constitutional principle in any antecedent Supreme Court decision. The individual mandate also finds no refuge in the aggregation doctrine, for decisions to abstain from the purchase of a product or service, whatever their cumulative effect, lack a sufficient nexus to commerce.

The individual mandate, however, can be severed from the remainder of the Act’s myriad reforms. The presumption of severability is rooted in notions of judicial restraint and respect for the separation of powers in our constitutional system. The Act’s other provisions remain legally operative after the mandate’s excision, and the high burden needed under Supreme Court precedent to rebut the presumption of severability has not been met.

Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the district court.

SECOND UPDATE: Judge Marcus’ dissent begins:

Today this Court strikes down as unconstitutional a central piece of a comprehensive economic regulatory scheme enacted by Congress. The majority concludes that Congress does not have the commerce power to require uninsured Americans to obtain health insurance or otherwise pay a financial penalty. The majority does so even though the individual mandate was designed and intended to regulate quintessentially economic conduct in order to ameliorate two large, national problems: first, the substantial cost shifting that occurs when uninsured individuals consume health care services — as virtually all of them will, and many do each year — for which they cannot pay; and, second, the unavailability of health insurance for those who need it most — those with pre-existing conditions and lengthy medical histories.

In the process of striking down the mandate, the majority has ignored many years of Commerce Clause doctrine developed by the Supreme Court. It has ignored the broad power of Congress, in the words of Chief Justice Marshall, “to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed.” Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 196 (1824). It has ignored the undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries, and is now generally accepted as having afforded Congress the authority to create rules regulating large areas of our national economy. It has ignored the Supreme Court’s expansive reading of the Commerce Clause that has provided the very foundation on which Congress already extensively regulates both health insurance and health care services. And it has ignored the long-accepted instruction that we review the constitutionality of an exercise of commerce power not through the lens of formal, categorical distinctions, but rather through a pragmatic one, recognizing, as Justice Holmes put it over one hundred years ago, that “commerce among the states is not a technical legal conception, but a practical one, drawn from the course of
business.” Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U.S. 375, 398 (1905).

The approach taken by the majority has also disregarded the powerful admonitions that acts of Congress are to be examined with a heavy presumption of constitutionality, that the task at hand must be approached with caution, restraint, and great humility, and that we may not lightly conclude that an act of Congress exceeds its enumerated powers. The circumspection this task requires is underscored by recognizing, in the words of Justice Kennedy, the long and difficult “history of the judicial struggle to interpret the Commerce Clause during the transition from the economic system the Founders knew to the single, national market still emergent in our own era.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 568 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring).

The plaintiffs and, indeed, the majority have conceded, as they must, that Congress has the commerce power to impose precisely the same mandate compelling the same class of uninsured individuals to obtain the same kind of insurance, or otherwise pay a penalty, as a necessary condition to receiving health care services, at the time the uninsured seek these services. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs argue that Congress cannot do now what it plainly can do later. In other words, Congress must wait until each component transaction underlying the costshifting problem occurs, causing huge increases in costs both for those who have health care insurance and for health care providers, before it may constitutionally act. I can find nothing in logic or law that so circumscribes Congress’ commerce power and yields so anomalous a result.

Although it is surely true that there is no Supreme Court decision squarely on point dictating the result that the individual mandate is within the commerce power of Congress, the rationale embodied in the Court’s Commerce Clause decisions over more than 75 years makes clear that this legislation falls within Congress’ interstate commerce power. These decisions instruct us to ask whether the target of the regulation is economic in nature and whether Congress had a rational basis to conclude that the regulated conduct has a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

It cannot be denied that Congress has promulgated a rule by which to comprehensively regulate the timing and means of payment for the virtually inevitable consumption of health care services. Nor can it be denied that the consumption of health care services by the uninsured has a very substantial impact on interstate commerce — the shifting of substantial costs from those who do not pay to those who do and to the providers who offer care. I therefore respectfully dissent from the majority’s opinion insofar as it strikes down the individual mandate.