I find screwups fascinating. Not mundane, run-of-the-mill screwups caused by people who are just too stupid to know better. No, I’m fascinated by screwups caused by intelligent people who, presumably, know what they are doing. I particularly enjoy it when snooty jerks screw up. And let me tell you, congressional aides in Washington are, from my experience, among the snootiest jerks on the planet.

Which brings me to the health reform law and the ruling earlier this week by a U.S. District Court judge, who found the mandate that everyone must purchase health insurance unconstitutional and, as a result, threw out the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

This case, of course, is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, and I’m not really interested in debating the wisdom of the individual mandate or health reform in general. If you want that, there’s plenty of noise about it elsewhere on the Web. As is so often the case, I see the validity of the points made by both sides. (Sorry.)

But what fascinates me is that the judge was able to throw out the entire law only because ... the congressional aides who write these things forgot — forgot! — to include what is known as a severability clause.

There’s a good explanation of this by David Weigel on Slate.com.

The clause is a piece of boilerplate in many laws that says something like  the “invalidity or unenforceability of one or more provisions of this Agreement shall not affect any other provision of this Agreement.”

And none of these smart staffers — or their bosses — noticed it was missing.

Unbelievable. I guess we just ought to be glad these guys aren’t running a nuclear power plant or doing something else really important.

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