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VA Judge Echoes the “Constitution According to the Tea Party” in Health Care Ruling

December 15, 2010

For months, we at the Constitutional Accountability Center have been taking on Tea Party activists and their rampant distortions of the Constitution.  We’ve explained that the Tea Party version of a virtually powerless federal government bears little resemblance to our actual Constitution and in many important ways is inconsistent with the real Constitution’s text and history.   We’ve warned that Tea Party rhetoric, while evoking the spirit of our Nation’s Founders, in fact threatens some of the constitutional values Americans cherish most.

Now, the Tea Party’s dangerous constitutional vision has found its way into a judicial ruling.  Today, the Bush-appointed federal district court judge Henry E. Hudson echoed the popular Tea Party meme that Congress has no authority to compel individuals to purchase health care, and therefore, the minimum coverage provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.   From his December 13 opinion:

Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market. … In doing so, enactment of the  Minimum Essential Coverage Provision exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I [of the Constitution.]

But as our chief counsel Elizabeth Wydra points out:

Judge Hudson’s ruling today is a constitutional outlier that should not stand on appeal. The ruling is not only inconsistent with the rulings of the two other federal judges who have already considered the merits of the minimum coverage provision and found it constitutional, the ruling is also out of step with over 200 years of Supreme Court precedent on the powers of Congress.  In particular, the requirement that individuals maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage or pay a tax penalty falls squarely within Congress’s constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce, including actions—such as the decision not to buy health insurance—that substantially affect interstate commerce.”

CAC has been at the leading edge of this issue, explaining how the text and history of the Constitution support health care reform, refuting Tea Party claims about federal power and defending the constitutionality of the historic health care law by filing a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of 78 State Legislators from 27 states in November.  CAC’s brief in the lawsuit filed in Florida by a group of 20 conservative state politicians, Florida v. HHS, shows that the Constitution creates a vibrant system of federalism that gives broad power to the federal government to act in circumstances in which a national solution is necessary or preferable, while reserving a significant role for the States to craft innovative policy solutions that showcase the diversity of America’s people, places, and ideas.  Far from violating state sovereignty or the principles of federalism in our Constitution, the health care reform law respects the federal-state partnership and builds upon it.

Fortunately, Judge Hudson’s health care ruling based on the Constitution According to the Tea Party is an isolated decision—two other federal judges have upheld the constitutionality of the minimum coverage provision based on the overwhelming weight of Supreme Court precedent in support of Act.   Time will tell if the judge presiding over the Florida lawsuit, which is the most comprehensive of all the challenges raised against the health care law, will decide that case based on our actual Constitution or the Constitution According to the Tea Party.  (Oral argument in the Florida lawsuit will be held Thursday, December 16.)  In the health care reform debate, as elsewhere, CAC will continue to stand up for the progressive promise of our Constitution and fight back against constitutional distortions by the Tea Party and its allies.

Check back here for the latest developments regarding the health care law.

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