Judge: States must continue with health overhaul

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By MELISSA NELSON
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 3:52 PM

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- A federal judge who declared President Barack Obama's health care overhaul unconstitutional ruled Thursday that states must continue implementing it while the case makes its way through the courts.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson was responding to a request from Obama administration attorneys who sought to ensure Florida and 25 other states follow the law until their challenge to it is resolved.

Three other federal judges have upheld the law and a fourth in Virginia has ruled against it, but that ruling is also on hold until appeals are heard. The issue is widely expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Thursday's ruling, Vinson admonished the administration for being slow to appeal and for asking him to clarify his ruling instead of filing a motion to put it on hold. Still, he said, it is in the nation's best interest for states to continue following the law for now.

"It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty" to halt implementation, he wrote.

However, if the federal government does not appeal within seven days, the states can consider the law invalid, he wrote.

Vinson ruled the massive overhaul unconstitutional in January, saying the federal government had overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce by requiring nearly all Americans to carry health insurance.

He said lawmakers do not have the power to penalize citizens for not doing something.

But he wrote in Thursday's ruling that other judges will probably disagree with him.

"It is likely that the Court of Appeals will also reach divergent results and that, as most court-watchers predict, the Supreme Court may eventually be split on this issue as well," he wrote.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement that the government would promptly appeal Vinson's ruling and seek an expedited review.

"There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Affordable Care Act and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal," she said.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi praised Vinson's original declaration that the law is unconstitutional. Though she was disappointed that the stay was granted, she said she is glad the Department of Justice has just seven days to appeal.

"With this order from Judge Vinson, the 26 states and National Federation of Independent Business as plaintiffs are assured that there will be no more stalling from the federal government," she said.

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



© 2011 The Associated Press

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