There is one line in Monday's ruling by a federal judge invalidating a key part of the health-care law that no one would dispute: "The final word will undoubtedly reside with a higher court." Indeed, the Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of whether the individual mandate - the requirement that most individuals obtain health insurance or pay a penalty - exceeds Congress' constitutional authority. The mandate, along with other key pieces of the statute, is not set to take effect until 2014, but the earlier a definitive ruling on the law's constitutionality comes, the better off the country will be.
The decision, by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, upheld the state of Virginia's challenge to the health-care law. Splitting with two other federal district judges who have considered the issue, Judge Hudson found that the individual mandate could not be justified under either the power to regulate interstate commerce or the power to tax. It is certainly true, as Judge Hudson noted, that the Constitution's commerce clause has never been interpreted to extend to a decision not to purchase a product - in this case, health insurance. Yet health care presents an extraordinary, perhaps unique, circumstance that we believe puts the individual mandate within the realm of congressional powers. As the Obama administration argued in defending the law, "No person can guarantee that he will divorce himself entirely from the market for health-care services." Even inaction, in this situation, affects economic activity and therefore interstate commerce.