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Florida judge rules health care law unconstitutional


By Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau: A Florida judge ruled today that a key provision of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a Ronald Reagan appointee serving in Pensacola, Fla., ruled in favor of the 26 states that argued the law’s provision that imposes penalties on people who don’t purchase health insurance is unconstitutional.

In a 78-page ruling, Vinson said that the law will remain in effect so long as the appeals process continues. He did, however, rule that the whole act would be declared void if appellate courts uphold his decision.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void,” Vinson writes.

He ruled that the “individual mandate” requiring individuals to purchase health insurance oversteps the regulatory authority of Congress through the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

The requirement does not take effect until 2014. Other implementation deadlines come sooner.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has said before that portions of the law were “unconstitutional.” He supports the lawsuit to which Nevada is a party.

“Time is of the essence in settling this issue because we are being forced to implement portions of this law,” he said in reaction to the Florida ruling.

Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services is already implementing the first phases of the law, which include setting up a statewide health insurance exchange.

Mike Willden, the department’s director, has said that the state will continue implementation so long as the law is upheld.

Supporters of the law have held that the controversial “individual mandate” requirement of the law is important for other important elements to take effect, including the provision that bars insurance companies from denying a person coverage for preexisting conditions. Unless everyone has insurance, the idea of spreading risk among the populace may not work.

Nevada had joined the lawsuit under former Gov. Jim Gibbons via attorney Mark Hutchinson after the state’s Democratic attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto declined to pursue legal action.

Before the challenge reaches the Supreme Court, Congress may change the act. Sen. Harry Reid already wants to remove a section that he said imposes burdensome reporting requirements on small businesses.

“Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say on the constitutionality of this bill.  As I have stated before, the President should work with Congress to find real solutions to healthcare reform instead of allowing a protracted court battle,” said Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nevada.
 The ruling comes after U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled in a Virginia case that some parts of the act were unconstitutional. Previously, two other judges had thrown such challenges out.

The Obama administration appealed the Virginia ruling and is expected to appeal today’s ruling. The Florida case may now move to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Some expect the case will eventually be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling further illustrates the party-line split when it comes to the constitutionality of the Obama law.

Nearly all 26 of the attorneys general and governors involved in the lawsuit are Republicans. Judges appointed by Democrats have upheld the law’s constitutionality whereas Republican appointees have ruled it unconstitutional.

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