14 Sep 2010

Obamacare’s Achilles Heel

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Death of Achilles, Villa Reale, Milan

Louis Case, at American Thinker, points out that the complicated Machiavellian shenanigans needed to get Obamacare through Congress inevitably include the potential legal seed of the destruction of the entire bill.

Virginia’s lawsuit argues that the federal government has no constitutional authority to require individuals to purchase health insurance policies.

Virginia is asserting that certain portions (that is, the personal mandate) of ObamaCare are unconstitutional. If Virginia prevails, it leaves the question of what happens to the rest of the ObamaCare statute. This is where the concept of severance comes in. Normally, all comprehensive laws contain a boilerplate severance clause: it says that if any portion of the law is found to be unconstitutional, that portion is severed from the rest of the law — that is, the rest of the law stands.

But ObamaCare contains no severance clause. Virginia is asserting that if it prevails on its substantive claims, the whole law is unconstitutional. (If Virginia does not prevail, any one of the twenty-plus legal challenges have the same severance argument available.)

If a severance clause is normal boilerplate, why does not ObamaCare contain one? This is where Scott Brown’s election enters. Recall that the House passed its version of ObamaCare. On Christmas Eve, after much horsetrading and bribing, the Senate passed its version. The Senate version was not drafted to be in its final form; it was drafted to get 60 votes. Normally, these bills would be reconciled in a conference committee, and the final version would have to be voted on again with 60 votes in the Senate. However, before it could be sent to conference and reconciled, Scott Brown won in Massachusetts — a reconciled bill could no longer get 60 votes! That is why the House had to vote up or down on the Senate bill, which was basically a draft without the normal boilerplate inserted.

As Virginia argued in its Memorandum (Pages 24 to 28), the presence of a severance clause raises a presumption that Congress did not intend the whole statute to depend on the constitutionality of any particular clause. But with no severance clause, they are not entitled to that presumption. A court cannot sever the offending clause on its own if the statute would not function as Congress intended.

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