Florida Federal Judge Stays His Previous Decision Against Health Care Reform Law

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, the federal judge in Pensacola, Florida who previously ruled the Health Care Reform Law unconstitutional in its entirety, entered an Order on March 3, staying his own decision, pending appeal. This essentially suspends enforcement of his prior decision, making clear that the Health Reform Law can continue to be enforced and carried out pending appeal of the Judge’s prior decision to the Court of Appeal and then the U.S. Supreme Court.

The stay order was entered in response to a motion by the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking a clarification of his prior decision as to its effect on continued enforceability of the Health Care Law pending appeal. Judge Vinson granted the Justice Department’s request, but stated in his opinion that the stay is conditioned on the Justice Department’s expediting the matter by filing the appeal within seven days.

In his Order, Judge Vinson expressed irritation with the Justice Department for not moving swifter with an appeal. “The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” he wrote. “And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my order and judgment and still the defendants have not filed their notice of appeal.”

Judge Vinson’s prior decision entered on January 31 ruled that the “individual insurance mandate” contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Health Care Reform Law), requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance (with certain government assistance in cases of need) by 2014, is unconstitutional, reasoning that it is beyond the power of Congress to mandate under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. He held that the Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate acts of commerce, and that failure to purchase health insurance in his opinion does not constitute an act of commerce. He further reasoned that the individual insurance mandate is a central provision of the law which, he found, is not severable from the rest of the law, and therefore the entire the Affordable Care Act must fall. Read more about Judge Vinson’s January 31 decision.

In his March 3 order, staying enforcement of his January 31 decision pending appeal, Judge Vinson acknowledged that his reasoning about the individual mandate may be open to question. “Reasonable and intelligent people (and reasonable and intelligent jurists) can disagree,” he wrote, about the constitutionality of the insurance requirement. The Justice Department has argued that failure to purchase health insurance is itself an act of commerce with broad-reaching economic effects, which Congress has the authority to regulate under the the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, as previously interpreted by the Courts. “Despite what partisans for or against the individual mandate might suggest, this litigation presents a question with some strong and compelling arguments on both sides,” Judge Vinson acknowledged.

After Judge Vinson issued his stay order on Thursday, some state Governors who has previously announced they would not carry out the Health Reform Law in light of Judge Vinson’s January 31 decision (including, for example, Governor Sean Parnell of Alaska), immediately reversed course and said they would “treat the federal health care law as being in place.”

Judge Vinson is the second of two federal judges who have ruled the Health Care Reform Law unconstitutional, in whole or in part. Three other federal judges have upheld the law in the face of litigation challenging it. Support and opposition to the law have largely divided along partisan lines. Both Judges who have ruled against the law were appointed by Republican Presidents, and the litigation challenging the law has been brought by attorneys general and elected officials in 26 states, all of which are dominated by Republicans. All three of the federal judges who have upheld the law were appointed by Democratic Presidents.

For more on the litigation and judicial rulings so far, see our earlier reports:

Florida Federal Judge Declares Health-Care Law ‘Void’ in its Entirety – Conflicting Judicial Decisions Now Pending Appeal

D.C. Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Health Care Law — Courts now 3-2 in Favor of Law

Read more reporting on Judge Vinson’s stay order of March 3, and reactions to is, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News.

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