Here's the text of Judge Vinson's opinion in Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services. It's 78 pages long but quite clearly written, and much of it summarizes the Supreme Court case law. If you don't know the cases, I think you'll find that part readable. If you do know the cases, I think you'll find that part easily skimmable. The meat of the opinion begins at the bottom of page 37, and it follows arguments that should be familiar if you've been reading about the litigation.
Applying the case law to the facts, Vinson focuses on the problem that the individual mandate to buy health insurance reaches individuals who are not engaged in any economic activity. The Supreme Court case law doesn't answer the question whether Congress can require action of those whose inactivity can be characterized — when you take all the inactive people in the aggregate — as having a substantial effect on interstate commerce. I think when the case reaches the Supreme Court (assuming it does), there will and should be more creative arguments about fine-tuning the doctrine, but the district judge has no option other than to apply the case law to the new situation: "I am required to interpret this law as the Supreme Court presently defines it."
Vinson decides that Congress cannot reach inactivity, basically making the simple and straightforward point that we have a system of enumerated powers, and if Congress could reach inactivity because of its economic effect, then it would seem that Congress could regulate everything. There has to be some limit, so the line should be here. I don't think the line does need to be there, since one could stress the extreme degree of the effect on interstate commerce and the great value of designing a coherent system of paying for health care by taking account of the entire, interrelated system of health care services, including the potential future demands on it that everyone represents, even if they happen to be nonconsumers right now. Why not say that is within Congress's power, yet other things remain beyond its power? That too would preserve the structure of enumerated powers. I don't think, in the end, the Supreme Court will be at a loss to articulate a line that includes regulation of the entire enterprise of paying for health care, including health care for people who resist buying it, hoping for continued good health, enough savings to cover future expenses, or free care financed by the rest of us. Distinguish other kinds of inactivity, and it would preserve the idea that something must be outside of Congress's power.
Vinson does engage with this idea, but he's limited by the need to abide by the Supreme Court's case law. Under that constraint, he talks about whether the "uniqueness" of the health care market somehow transforms inactivity into activity. (This discussion begins at page 45.) He refutes uniqueness by coming up with additional examples of markets the individual can't choose to opt out of — housing and food. But housing and food aren't much like health care. They do depend on our all having bodies, but we always need housing and food. Health care is the one thing that you're tempted to think you can get by without, but you might get hit with a huge expense that you can't possibly cover. If you don't buy insurance, you're gaming the system, and some of the people who game the system will take advantage of the rest of us who participated. It really is different from housing and food. You've got constant pressure on you to provide for those things.
Finally, there's the Necessary and Proper Clause, which was key to Justice Scalia's joining the liberal members of the Court in approving of Congress's power to ban possession of marijuana (even in the home-grown, state-approved-medical-use situation). And there's the issue of severability. I'm going to save those topics for separate posts.
My point here is that Judge Vinson has produced a workmanlike application of the Supreme Court case law devoid of flights of creativity, as befits a district court judge. Politicos who froth about what an extreme activist he is are trying to cow the judiciary into approving of the law because it's a big fucking deal.