President Barack Obama’s health care law, assailed as an abuse of federal power in a 26-state lawsuit, was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. judge who said Congress overstepped its authority to regulate commerce.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, declared the law unconstitutional today in a 78-page opinion. He said the law’s provision requiring Americans over 18 to obtain insurance coverage exceeded Congress’ powers under the commerce clause of the U.S Constitution.
Then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed suit on behalf of 13 states on March 23, the same day Obama signed into law the legislation intended to provide the U.S. with almost universal health-care coverage. Seven states joined the suit last year, and six this year. Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli sued separately on March 23 and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed his own suit on Jan. 21.
“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.”
The ruling by Vinson, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in 1983, may be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. An appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, is already slated in May to hear challenges to two conflicting lower-court rulings in that state, one upholding the legislation, the other invalidating part of it.
The U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately be asked to consider the issue.
The 955-page law bars insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick and from imposing lifetime limits on costs. It also includes pilot projects to test ideas like incentives for better results and bundled payments to medical teams for patient care.
In an Oct. 14 decision letting the case proceed, Vinson narrowed the issues to whether the act exceeded the constitutional powers of Congress by requiring all Americans over the age of 18 to obtain coverage and expanding eligibility for Medicaid, the federal-state program offering care for the indigent.
The case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10-cv-00091, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).
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