Virginia Judge Strikes Down Key Part of Obama Health Care Law

Judge considers constitutionality of individual mandate in health care law.

Dec. 13, 2010— -- In a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration, a federal judge Monday invalidated a key provision of the recently passed health care law, saying that it "exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power."

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said in a 42-page opinion that the so-called individual mandate provision, which requires all Americans to buy some form of health insurance, would "invite unbridled exercise of the federal police powers."

"At its core," the judge ruled, "this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance, or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage, its about an individual's right to choose to participate."

The judge, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, did not strike down the entire law. The provision requiring people to have health insurance was not supposed to take effect until 2014 -- and in the meantime other federal judges are sure to rule on the issue.

"This is the first case in which a judge will actually enter a decision on the question of the constitutionality of the individual mandate at the behest of a state," said Tim Jost of Washington and Lee University Law School before the judge's ruling today. "Virginia has adopted a statute that attempts to nullify the federal law. It cannot do that if the federal law is found to be constitutional."

The Obama administration argued in court briefs that in 2009 alone, 45 million people — an estimated 15 percent of the population — went without health insurance.

The government lawyers argued, "Congress has the authority under commerce power to take measures to ensure the success of its larger reforms of the interstate market."

Hudson could have invalidated the entire health care law but said today that he recognized he would not be the last federal judge to rule on the issue. "This case turns on atypical and uncharted applications of constitutional law interwoven with subtle political undercurrents." he said. "And the final word will undoubtedly reside with a higher court."

Across the country there have been several other lawsuits challenging the law. This week, a federal judge in Florida will hear a challenge from 20 states. Federal judges in Virginia and Michigan have ruled in favor of the Obama administration in cases brought by independent parties.

Conservative Group Calls Virginia Ruling Called 'Momentum-Changer'

The conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which had filed a brief in support of Virginia, issued a statement today, calling the ruling a "momentum-changer."

"Judge Henry Hudson's decision," the statement said, "is a victory for the majority of Americans who are opposed to the government-run health care."

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