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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Stays Own Ruling to Strike Down Health Care

(CN) - The Florida judge who struck down President Barack Obama's health care law as unconstitutional stayed that ruling on Thursday, allowing the government to continue implementing the law pending appeal.

Noting that the confusion over the legality of health care reform will continue until the Supreme Court has a chance to rule on the issue, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson granted the motion to stay because it will help to expedite the appeals process.

"It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon as practically possible," Vinson wrote, adding that the Obama administration should file an appeal within seven days of his order.

Though the government has not yet appealed the Florida judge's decision to the 11th Circuit, it has appealed a Virginia judge's ruling against health care to the 4th Circuit.

"The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be," Vinson 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."

Notably, the government also waited a month to appeal the Virginia decision, which was filed on Dec. 13. Oral arguments in the case are tentatively scheduled for mid-May.

Vinson, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, had ruled on Jan. 31 that a central provision of the health care law was unconstitutional and that the rest of the act could not survive if the provision was severed. The judge in Virginia who had found the same provision was unconstitutional, however, ruled that the measure could be struck out to preserve the rest of the act.

The "individual mandate" clause requires most Americans to buy health insurance or else pay a fine beginning in 2014, and Vinson noted that the Obama administration had deemed it "absolutely necessary to the health insurance reforms."

Vinson's decision stated that the provision granted the federal government unprecedented regulatory power over mental decisions.

The stay temporarily suspends the court's declaratory judgment, which Vinson had ordered as an injunction to stop implementation of the law.

Vinson irritation with the Obama administration, which continued to implement the health care law in spite of his judgment, is apparent in the 20-page order.

"It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the act, and only then file a belated motion to 'clarify,'" Vinson wrote.

Vinson made a similar remark just one day after the government filed that motion requesting clarification on Feb. 17. His latest filing notes that the government is about as likely as the challengers to win the case on appeal.

"Members of Congress, law professors, and several federal district courts have already reached varying conclusions on whether the individual mandate is constitutional," Vinson wrote. "It is likely that the courts of appeal will also reach divergent results."

Last week a judge in Washington, D.C., became the third to uphold Obama's health care act. In addition to the two judges who have found that the individual mandate clause was unconstitutional, about a dozen other courts have dismissed challenges for lack of standing. Virginia's attorney general tried to fast-track the appeals process last month by asking the Supreme Court to take up the case before the 4th Circuit has a chance to rule.

Confusion resulting from these alternate findings could do more harm than the implementation of the health care act pending appeal, Vinson wrote.

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