RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A federal judge on Monday found unconstitutional a key provision of President Obama's health care law: the section that requires most Americans to buy health insurance. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, a George W. Bush appointee, said that section exceeded Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause.
Judge Hudson refused the Virginia attorney general's request to enjoin the law's implementation during appeal. The insurance mandate does not kick in until 2014.
Hudson wrote: "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."
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli III, who sued Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, claimed that the requirement to buy health insurance is different from states' requiring vehicle owners to buy liability insurance, because Congress, and the Constitution, granted the states police powers which include that. Nor is there a requirement that people own cars; the health care law requires people to buy insurance merely because they exist, Cuccinelli argued.
The insurance mandate is an essential part of the plan because of its effects on cost control. Without it, if healthy people opt out, insurance companies could be expected to raise premiums uncontrollably.
Federal judges in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va., have upheld the law, and roughly 10 challenges have been dismissed. Both decisions upholding the law have been appealed; the Detroit case to the 6th Circuit and the Lynchburg case to the 4th Circuit, to which the administration can be expected to appeal Hudson's decision.
Republican state attorneys general have led the attack on the Obama health-care law; 19 of the 20 attorneys general who challenged it are Republicans.
Judge Hudson wrote: "At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance - or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage - it's about an individual's right to choose to participate."
He said that allowing Congress to penalize people for failing to do something - failing to buy a health insurance product - "would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers."
Republicans' fight against the health-care law has become a political struggle as much as a legal one-part of their declared effort to make Obama a one-term president. The New York Times reported today that "By late afternoon Monday, [Cuccinelli] had already posted campaign fund-raising advertisements online that cited his victory."