Today is a great day for liberty. By striking down the individual mandate, the Eleventh Circuit has reaffirmed that the Constitution places limits on the federal government’s power. Congress can do a great many things under modern constitutional jurisprudence, but, as the court concludes, “what Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.” Indeed, just because Congress can regulate the health insurance industry does not mean it can also require people to buy that industry’s products.
One of the striking things about today’s ruling is that, for the first time in one of these cases, a Democrat-appointed judge, Frank Hull, has ruled against the government. Just as the Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton made waves by being the first Republican appointee to rule in the government’s favor, today’s 300-page ruling shows that the constitutional issues raised by the healthcare reform—and especially the individual mandate—are complex, serious, and non-ideological.
Supporters of limited constitutional government need to temper their celebrations—just as they wisely tempered their sorrows after the last ruling—because we must all now realize that this will not end until the Supreme Court rules. Nevertheless, today’s decision gives hope to those who believe that there are some things beyond the government’s reach and that the judiciary cannot abdicate its duty to hold Congress’s feet to the constitutional fire.
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
This post first appeared at Cato@Liberty – Cato Institute Blog.