Virginia Judge Declares Portion of Health Care Reform Unconstitutional

March 3, 2017

On Monday, December 13, 2010, a federal judge, Henry E. Hudson of the Federal District Court in Richmond, Virginia, ruled a central provision of the national health care reform law unconstitutional, becoming the first jurist to invalidate a portion of the extensive legislation and paving the way for vigorous action in the appellate courts.

The judge specifically addressed that portion of the law which would require Americans to obtain health care insurance after the fashion of the requirement to insure their automobiles. Hudson ruled that the provision exceeded the regulatory authority granted to Congress via the Commerce Clause.

In his 42-page opinion, Hudson, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote, “Neither the Supreme Court not 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.” Granting Congress to use such authority “would,” wrote Hudson, “invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.”

The requirement for auto insurance does not fall under the same interpretation because the states are granted broad powers that cover that area of authority and because there is no statutory requirement that citizens own motor vehicles, only a requirement that if they do own such conveyances, those conveyances be insured.

The provision requiring citizens to carry health insurance is a vital part of the health care law’s intent to see that 30 million people in the United States who currently have no insurance coverage are granted that protection. The Obama administration stands by the constitutionality of the legislation.

A single statement in Hudson’s opinion encapsulates the objection many opponents, including the Republican leadership of Congress, have to the requirement. “At its core,” wrote Hudson, “this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individuals right to choose to participate.”