On January 31, 2011, Judge Roger Vinson of the Federal District Court in Pensacola, Florida, issued a decision declaring the new federal Health Care Law void in its entirety, finding that the mandate for all Americans to purchase health care insurance violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In his decision, granting Summary Judgment to the Plaintiffs, the Attorneys General or Governors of 26 States who brought suit challenging the Law, Judge Vinson reasoned that the Clause of the Constitution giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce does not include the power to regulate commercial “inactivity” — i.e. to force people to conduct commercial activity by purchasing health insurance. He rejected the government’s argument that refusal by some individuals to purchase health insurance is itself an economic activity, with enormous economic consequences to the government and other citizens, which the government can regulate. He further reasoned that the Health Care Law cannot stand without individual the mandate and therefore needs to be re-designed in its entirety by Congress. “The act,” he wrote, “like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”
The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement, indicating that it will appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal, and stating, “There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”
Earlier, a Federal judge in Virginia struck down the individual mandate portion of the Health Care law, but declined to declare the remainder of the law unconstitutional. Both of these judges declined to enjoin enforcement of the Law, which means the law can continue to be implemented pending appeals.
Two other Federal Judges have upheld the Law, faced with the same legal challenge.
The three earlier decisions upholding and overturning the Health Care Law are currently on appeal before the Fourth and Sixth US Circuit Courts of Appeals. According to the Justice Department’s statement, Judge Vinson’s will be appealed to the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.
This sets the stage, for appeal thereafter, of any or all of the cases, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Read a summary of the litigation over the Health Reform Law and the conflicting decisions issued so far at » Judge declares Obama health-care law ‘void’ in its entirety – CSMonitor.com.
The litigation appears largely to be a political issue, with Republicans seeking to overturn the Law and Democrats supporting it. The 26 States that have signed on the legal challenges to the Health Reform Law all have predominantly Republican Governors, Attorneys General, and/or Legislatures.
In addition, U.S. States generally are dividing along partisan lines in their reactions to the Florida Judge’s ruling, with some Republican-led States declining to pursue enforcement of the Law pending appeal, while Democratic-led States are taking a “full speed ahead” approach.
Fox News has published an editorial arguing for repeal of the Health Reform Law and praising Judge Vinson’s decision.
The Center for American Progress has published an editorial including a copy of Judge Vinson’s written opinion in its entirety, with highlighting and annotations arguing why it is legally wrong.
The AARP continues to support the law, focusing on the multitude of benefits it provides to patients and consumers, which would be lost if the Law were to be overturned. The American Medical Association also continues to support the Law, offering some recommendations for improving the Act.
The Obama Administration has indicated its intention to continue enforcement of the Law, and in its appeal to the 11th Circuit, potentially to seek a stay of Judge Vinson’s Declaratory Judgment, to the extent it may be read to have any effect on enforcement of the law in the 26 states that are party to the litigation.
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