A Virginia federal judge ruled on Monday that a provision in the recently-passed health care reform bill mandating individual insurance coverage is unconstitutional.
Judge Henry Hudson of the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia ruled in a state lawsuit that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's individual mandate for health care coverage exceeds the federal government's power to oversee interstate commerce.
"Despite the laudable intentions of Congress in enacting a comprehensive and transformative healthcare regime, the legislative process must still operate within constitutional bounds," Hudson wrote in a 42-page opinion.
He continued, writing that the act's "enactment of the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I."
The Commonwealth of Virginia challenged the law, arguing that Congress exceeded its authority in passing the legislation and that the law conflicts with a state law already on the books that says residents cannot be forced to buy health insurance.
According to the Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the authority to regulate commerce among the several states. Though health insurance has historically been regulated by individual states, it can qualify as commerce. However, there is no mention of regulating commerce among individuals.
Attorneys from religious freedom legal group Alliance Defense Fund applauded the ruling.
"No one should be forced to pay for an unconstitutional federal takeover of health care that will funnel taxpayer dollars into the pockets of abortionists," said ADF senior counsel Steven Aden.
The ruling is good news for conservatives who have long opposed the bill. Fiscal conservatives contend that the individual mandate will put undue financial burden on those on the verge of poverty. Social conservatives decry the bill because they fear it will federally subsidize abortion.
Ashley Horne, federal policy analysis for family policy group Citizen Link, says that insurance policies offered through the reform law will have an abortion premium. The policies are federally-funded so even taxpayers who opt out of the policies will still be funding abortion coverage for others, she explained.
"There's no getting around it," stated Horne.
Policy watchdogs believe that the ruling will force lawmakers to reconsider the bill. "Even the administration believes that without that [individual mandate] the bill will implode," said Bruce Hausknecht, also a Citizen Link analyst.
The Family Research Council also applauded the ruling. However, Special Legal Counsel Ken Klukowski expressed disappointment that Judge Hudson did not impose a ban on the health care bill.
"Under these circumstances he must strike down the entire Obama-care law," Klukowski said.
Hausknecht, meanwhile, said he believes that the judge exercised proper judicial restraint, stating, "I'm not going to fault him."
However, he recognized that the bill has not yet been dissolved. There's also a great chance that President Barack Obama's administration will move to appeal this ruling and any other ruling that may challenge the health care bill, he acknowledged.
There are currently 15 lawsuits pending against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Klukowski is calling for quick action from the incoming Congress.
"We call on the incoming Congress to quickly move to repeal this unconstitutional law in its entirety, not merely to tinker with various provisions," he declared.