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U.S. Judge Stays His Decision Throwing Out Health Care Law

A U.S. judge put on hold his Jan. 31 decision throwing out President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, conditioning his freeze on the government seeking an expedited appeal of his ruling within seven days.

U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, issued the 20-page order today. The U.S. asked the judge to clarify his initial opinion in the 26-state lawsuit after officials from some of those states disagreed on whether it meant they could -- or must -- stop implementing the law.

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

Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23. The legislation was intended to create almost universal health care coverage in part by requiring people to buy coverage starting in 2014 or face a tax penalty.

Bill McCollum, then Florida’s attorney general, and Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli filed separate suits challenging the law on the same day Obama signed it.

Judge’s Conditions

Vinson conditioned his order today upon the U.S. filing an appeal within seven days in either a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court and requesting an expedited review of the case.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in an e-mailed statement that the government will seek expedited review by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

“We strongly disagree with the district court’s underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe -- as three federal courts have found -- that this law is constitutional,” she said.

In the Florida case, Vinson found that by forcing people to obtain health insurance Congress had exceeded its powers under the U.S. Constitution to regulate interstate commerce.

“Because that ‘essential’ provision was unseverable from the rest of the act, the entire legislation was void,” the judge said today, adding he believed his ruling would enjoin implementation of the legislation in the 26 plaintiff states.

‘Ignore the Ruling’

“To the extent that the defendants were unable (or believed that they were unable) to comply, it was expected that they would immediately seek a stay of the ruling,” Vinson said. “It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order.”

Vinson he would address the issue of a stay now rather than wait for the U.S. to ask for one pending appeal because time is of the essence.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, will hear argument in May on two earlier rulings addressing the constitutionality of the health care law.

In Cuccinelli’s case, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond on Dec. 13 also ruled that the mandatory insurance provision was unconstitutional. He declined to invalidate the remainder of the legislation.

In November, U.S. District Judge Norman Moon in Lynchburg, Virginia, upheld the law, rejecting a challenge by the evangelical Liberty University in Lynchburg.

Vinson was nominated to the federal bench by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican. Hudson, too, was selected by a Republican, President George W. Bush.

Moon and two other U.S. judges, each picked by Democratic President Bill Clinton, have said the health reform bill is lawful.

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).

-- With assistance from Tom Schoenberg in Washington. Editors: Michael Hytha, Fred Strasser

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