Federal Judge in FL Declares Healthcare Law 'Void'

John Commins, January 31, 2011

A federal judge in Pensacola, FL on Monday threw out as unconstitutional the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of the inseverable individual mandate provision that requires people to carry health insurance or else pay a penalty.

"This case is not about whether the Act is wise or unwise legislation. It is about the Constitutional role of the federal government," Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson wrote in a 78-page ruling. "Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void."

The ruling will likely be appealed by the federal government at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and the case is expected to be heard eventually by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The suit was filed last March minutes after President Obama signed the reforms into law. The 26 states' attorneys general – almost all of them Republicans – who joined the suit complained that the federal government had overstepped its authority by mandating insurance coverage in the healthcare reforms.

Vinson agreed.

 "I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate," wrote Vinson, who was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan. "That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our healthcare system. The healthcare market is more than one-sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here."

Vinson's ruling is the fourth by a federal judge on the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law. A Republican-appointed federal judge in Virginia struck down the individual mandate provision of the law, while two Democratic-appointed federal judges have upheld it.

The White House and the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to the ruling.

Republicans in Florida, however, applauded the decision. Attorney General Pam Bondi, who took office in January, called the ruling "an important victory for every person who believes in the freedoms granted to us by our Constitution."

"This proves that the federal government requiring Americans to purchase health insurance is in fact unconstitutional," Bondi said. "In addition, the bipartisan effort from Attorneys General across the country shows the federal government that we will not back down from protecting the constitutional rights of our citizens."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who also took office in January, said Vinson has "confirmed what many of us knew from the start; ObamaCare is an unprecedented and unconstitutional infringement on the liberty of the American people."

The ruling may be viewed here.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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