Judge Issues Stay on Obamacare Ruling, Forces Admin to Appeal

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 3, 2011   |   2:31PM   |   Tallahassee, FL

A federal judge in Florida issued a stay today of his own ruling in what is the largest lawsuit filed against the Obamacare health care law. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, in January, ruled the individual mandate is unconstitutional and, therefore, the entire law is as well.

But today, Vinson noted with quite a bit of consternation that it has been more than a month since his original ruling, and still no federal appeal has come from the Obama administration.

The stay allows the Obama administration to move ahead with implementation of healthcare law, which pro-life groups oppose because of loopholes allowing abortion funding and rationing concerns, but it forces the administration to file an appeal in the case in the next seven days to a federal appeals court — the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” a visibly frustrated Vinson wrote, adding, “the citizens of this country have an interest in having this case resolved as soon as practically possible.”

“That was nearly eleven months ago,” he wrote. “In the time since, the battle lines have been drawn, the relevant case law marshaled, and the legal arguments refined. Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the Act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward.”

The individual mandate is a portion of the law independent and conservative voters most strongly oppose because it requires Americans to purchase health insurance, that could fund abortions with taxpayer funds or premiums, whether they want to or not. The case the state of Florida and more than two dozen others made to Judge Vinson is that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the Constitution does not allow Congress to regulate financial inactivity.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” the judge wrote in his original ruling. “This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled ‘The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.’”

“Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution,” the judge wrote. “This case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government.”

“Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with individual mandate,” he added.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington joined Florida in the lawsuit. Earlier in January, six additional states joined them: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

On Monday, the Obama administration filed legal papers officially appealing the decision of a federal judge in Virginia who also struck down the main portion of the Obamacare law that could allow taxpayer funding of abortions.

The Obama team’s legal papers urged the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the judge’s ruling and argued that the individual mandate is allowed  under the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

“As Congress found, the means of payment for services in the interstate health care market is economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce,” the Justice Department wrote. “The requirement that participants in the health care market have insurance to pay for the services they consume is thus a quintessential exercise of the commerce power.”

The office of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is expected to file a brief in response later this month, and it will likely focus on the argument that Congress can’t regulate commercial inactivity — that is, when Americans decide not to buy health care. He will argue the federal government has no right to require Americans to purchase health care.

Last month, Cuccinelli announced he had filed a petition on behalf of the state with the Supreme Court to ask it to take an expedited review of the lawsuit.

Recently, the U.S. Senate rejected a move by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to have the Senate approve a bill the House approved to repeal Obamacare. Senators voted along party lines with all Democrats — including three who say they are pro-life — voting against repealing the abortion-funding bill while all Republicans supported repeal.

When Congress passed the government-run health care bill, it did so without any limits on abortion funding and language mandating taxpayer financing of abortion in certain circumstances. Obama eventually issued a controversial executive order supposedly taking the abortion funding issue off the table.

However, virtually every pro-life group said it would not mitigate the abortion funding because it doesn’t have the effect of law, could be reversed in the future, and because it didn’t tackle much of the abortion funding in the bill. The Obama administration could also ignore the order and not put it in place when the health care law goes into effect.

Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana have passed similar bills that have already been signed into law by governors in those states and several other states are expected to consider legislation in their upcoming legislative sessions. Governors in Oklahoma and Florida vetoed similar legislation.