Agree with it or not, the health care ruling is weak

AGREE WITH IT OR NOT, THE HEALTH CARE RULING IS WEAK…. Jon Chait noted yesterday that Judge Roger Vinson’s federal district court ruling, striking down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, was roughly “no different than if the Wall Street Journal editorial page was asked to rule on the constitutionality. You get a highly tendentious screed resting upon simple factual inaccuracies, only this one is passed off as law rather than some right-wing polemic.”

Obviously, those of us with strong feelings about health care — a group I’m clearly part of — aren’t disinterested observers. If we don’t like the outcome of a court ruling, we’re not inclined to approve of its reasoning, either.

Objectively, though, Chait’s right. Vinson’s hyper-political and confusing misjudgments produced a ruling that’s not only flawed, but hard to respect as a work of legal scholarship. We talked this morning about one of the ruling’s problems; Greg Sargent flagged another doozy this afternoon.

Judge Vinson writes on page 62 of the ruling that the goal of “excluding or charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions” is clearly “legitimate” and “within the scope of the Constitution.” He clarifies this by indicating that the means to that end must not be inconsistent with the “spirit” of the Constitution. But that end, he says, is valid.

Then, on page 63, Vinson writes that the defendants are right to assert that the individual mandate is “necessary” and “essential” to realizing that same end.

And yet, Vinson then goes on to conclude that “the individual mandate falls outside the boundary of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority and cannot be reconciled with a limited government of enumerated powers.”

NYU law professor Rick Hills told Greg, “Huh? How can a means that is conceded to be necessary for a legitimate end not be within Congress’ implied powers to pursue that end?”

That’s a good question. The answer, I suspect, is that a Republican judge started with the answer and worked backwards to figure out a legal justification for his preferred outcome. When one does this, failures of logic are inevitable.

Hills isn’t the only one who’s noticed. The White House blog had an item today, noting legal experts — including some conservatives — who’ve pointed to rather dramatic flaws in Vinson ruling.

What’s more, Adam Serwer had a good piece explaining why the decision is “more political than legal,” while Andrew Cohen has a related piece noting, among other things, the ruling’s “head-scratching analysis.”

Conservatives hate the law, so they love the ruling. I get that — Vinson’s decision is a means to an end, and if I were in the right’s shoes, I might be tempted to adopt a similar approach. Who cares if it’s partisan activism from a judge who acts like a lawmaker? As long I get the outcome I want, who cares?

Well, people who care about the integrity of the law care. Conservatives can tell me how thrilled they are, at least until the appeals, but don’t tell me this is a sensible ruling, based on sound legal reasoning and good judgment.

It’s not.