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Stanford Legal Expert Reacts To Health-Law Ruling

Publication Date: 
January 31, 2011
Source: 
Scope Blog
Author: 
Michelle Brandt

Professor Hank Greely was approached by Scope Blog's Michelle Brandt to share his reactions to the latest ruling on the health care law. Here are his comments:

When I heard about the latest ruling on the new health-care law, I contacted Stanford law professor Hank Greely, JD, to get his thoughts. Here's what he told me this afternoon:

I have only had a chance to read the 78 page opinion quickly. For now, I would start by noting that four federal district courts have ruled on this statute. Two upheld it as constitutional; two held that it was unconstitutional. This clearly is a case that won't be resolved short of the Supreme Court, as there are plausible arguments on both sides. Part of the disagreement reflects an underlying philosophical disagreement over the relationship between the federal government and the states, a disagreement that leads each side to read the Constitution differently.

The Florida court did find for the Administration and against the states on the argument that the required expansion of Medicaid violated the states' rights. It held against the Administration on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, finding that it was not justified by either the Commerce Clause or the "Necessary and Proper Clause." I don't find the term "abuse of federal power" in the opinion. I don't read this judge (who I don't know and don't know anything about) as deciding there was anything abusive or inherently tyrannical in this Act, just that, as he says, "For the reasons stated, I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate."

In the long run, these cases will mean whatever the Supreme Court decides they mean. The Court could go either way on the individual mandate - because it is a novel approach, there are no direct precedents for it. I would still put money on the Supreme Court finding this statute constitutional - but I wouldn't bet the mortgage money on it.