U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson has ruled that a provision of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Unlike the previous ruling, however, Vinson held that the individual mandate could not be "severed" from the rest of the ACA and therefore ruled that the entire act was unconstitutional. This ruling, in other words, raises the stakes. While a ruling only that the mandate was unconstitutional could well strengthen the legislation overall, a ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional would be a different matter. The status quo ante would be restored, and it will be a long time before that legislative coalition could be reassembled.
Despite this, this ruling is less important than the controversy it will generate might suggest. Many cornerstone programs of the New Deal were held unconstitutional by lower courts before being upheld by the Supreme Court. This ruling tells us nothing we didn't already know: There is a faction of conservative judges who believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Unless this view has the support of five members of the Supreme Court -- which I still consider very unlikely -- it won't matter; Vinson's reasoning would have a much greater impact if adopted by the Court, but for this reason it is even less likely to be adopted by higher courts.
-- Scott Lemieux