Unconstitutional: Federal Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Invalidates Law Over ‘Individual Mandate’

Jan 31, 2011 3:32pm

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue reports: In a big loss for the Obama administration, a federal judge has thrown out the entire health care reform law. Judge Roger Vinson in Florida found today that the requirement in the law that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine “exceeds Congress’ power” under the Commerce Clause. Vinson rules that the rest of the health care law cannot stand on its own. A judge in Virginia last month came to a similar conclusion about the individual mandate. But today's ruling goes further; the Virginia ruling allowed the rest of the law to stand while the individual mandate was challenged. Key quote on individual mandate from Vinson's ruling today: “I conclude that the individual mandate seeks to regulate economic inactivity, which is the very opposite of economic activity. And because activity is required under the Commerce Clause, the individual mandate exceeds Congress’ commerce power” Key quote throwing out the whole law: “I must conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit….In the final analysis, this Act has been analogized to a finely crafted watch, and that seems to fit. It has approximately 450 separate pieces, but one essential piece (the individual mandate) is defective and must be removed.” The Obama administration is sure to appeal. We'll have a fuller report soon, but in the meantime, here is our earlier look at the case: ORIGINAL POST: Jan. 31, 11:52 ET: Today we expect a major health care ruling out of federal court in Florida that could bring challenges to the Obama administration’s health care law one step closer to the Supreme Court.

So far two federal judges have upheld the constitutionality of the law and one federal judge struck down a key portion of it. Today’s ruling could balance out that scorecard.

The Supreme Court is more likely to agree to hear a case down the road if the lower courts have disagreed on a constitutional question.

Today’s case is unique because it is being brought by a total of 26 states.

The Florida Court has sent word to the parties to be on “stand by”—which means the decision could come at any time.

At issue:

Florida, joined by 25 other states, is challenging whether Congress had the authority to require that individuals buy health insurance. This so called “individual mandate” is a cornerstone of the new law.

In December Judge Roger Vinson of the US District Court for  the Northern District of Florida heard arguments on the case and seemed skeptical of some of the administration’s arguments.

Justice Department lawyers argue that the constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce, and that includes the health care costs of the uninsured that reach 43 billion dollars annually.

But the states argue the case is about the scope of federal power. They contend that Congress had no right to require individuals to enter a marketplace and buy a particular good or service.

This case is different from the other law suits because it challenges not only the individual mandate but the Medicaid provision of the law. The States are arguing that the law is an unfair burden to the states because it forces them to provide costly Medicaid to more citizens. 

For a primer on the legal issue surrounding the health reform law, click here.

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