Critics howled. They complained that the bill was ill-timed and unnecessary. Cooper had previously argued that North Carolina need not join the lawsuit because 1) if it succeeded, North Carolina would receive the same protection against federal encroachment that other states would; and 2) if it failed, North Carolina wouldn’t have wasted any money pursuing the litigation.
But a few days ago, the federal judge handling the multi-state lawsuit issued his ruling in the case – demonstrating why Cooper’s original position was flawed and why immediate corrective action is required.
In a powerful and well-reasoned decision, Judge Roger Vinson of Florida’s northern district struck down the individual insurance mandate as an unconstitutional exercise of federal power. Unlike a previous ruling by a federal judge in Virginia, Vinson also concluded that the mandate could not be severed from the rest of the legislation – both because it lacked a formal severability clause and because the Obama administration had itself argued the mandate was essential to the rest of the bill.
On the separate claim that ObamaCare constituted an unconstitutional use of congressional spending power to coerce state governments, Vinson ruled against the 26 states acting as co-plaintiffs in the case. He concluded that no matter how burdensome the regulations that come with Medicaid may be, participating in Medicaid is itself a voluntary decision on the part of the states.
But because Vinson also concluded that he had neither the authority nor the knowledge to sever the individual mandate from the rest of the plan, the states won anyway. His decision is, in effect, a federal order that the federal government stop implementing ObamaCare. Vinson wrote that he didn’t need to issue a formal injunction to that effect, since it is settled law that federal officials can’t enforce an unconstitutional law.
That’s not to say that the Obama administration can’t go back to Vinson to request a stay in his ruling while the case is appealed. The U.S. Justice Department may do that. Or a higher court may issue a stay. But for now, ObamaCare is blocked in the 26 states that signed on as plaintiffs in the case.
Aye, there’s the rub. Because North Carolina is not yet a plaintiff in the case, it appears that North Carolinians will receive no relief, however temporary it may prove to be, from the federal government’s encroachment on their freedom to make their own decisions about their own health care consumption and financing arrangements.
Obviously, when the case inevitably makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the final decision will be binding on the country as a whole. But that may take a while.
Relief from the burdens of ObamaCare would be welcome for many reasons. North Carolinians are experiencing the same increases in health plan premiums that other Americans are experiencing. These increases are higher than they would otherwise would be without last year’s passage of the federal law.
ObamaCare has already cost me my own health plan, and that of my employees. Our insurance provider decided, having read all the new law’s Byzantine rules, that it would no longer attempt to sell the consumer-driven health plans that we and thousands of other North Carolinians had purchased and come to appreciate (our plan had maintained roughly level premiums for several years, believe it or not).
And for Gov. Bev Perdue and state lawmakers trying to bridge a big budget gap for the coming fiscal year, relief from ObamaCare would have meant more freedom to restructure North Carolina’s Medicaid program to save millions of tax dollars.
At the moment, it is impossible to say how much relief North Carolina could have received, and for how long, had we joined the lawsuit last year when we should have. Better late than never.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of CarolinaJournal.com.