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Obama Administration Seeks Fast Appeal of Health-Care Ruling

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March 9 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Justice Department is seeking an expedited appeal of a federal judge’s ruling striking down President Barack Obama’s health-care reform legislation.

Lawyers for the federal government today said in an e-mailed statement they are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta to speed its review of the Jan. 31 decision by U.S. District Judge C. Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida.

Vinson found unconstitutional the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision requiring individuals to procure insurance coverage starting in 2014. Concluding that requirement couldn’t be severed from the rest of the legislation, the judge invalidated the entire measure.

“Expedition in this case is particularly warranted,” the U.S. said in an e-mailed copy of its motion, “because of the district court’s unprecedented severability ruling.”

The legislation to create the first almost universal U.S. health insurance program was signed by Obama on March 23, 2010. That day, the attorneys general of Florida and Virginia filed lawsuits challenging the act’s constitutionality.

The Florida case, begun by then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, was joined by 25 other states.

In December, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli won a federal judge’s ruling that the individual-insurance mandate was unconstitutional.

Virginia Appeal

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, is scheduled to hear argument on the U.S. appeal of that ruling, as well as the appeal of a decision by another federal judge in Virginia who found the legislation was lawful.

Justice Department lawyers cited the expedited review in that case in their request to the Atlanta-based court to set June 1 as the final submission date for briefs in the Florida appeal. Their notice of appeal, filed with Vinson yesterday, appeared on the appeals court’s docket today.

The U.S. had asked Vinson to clarify his Jan. 31 order after attorneys general for the plaintiff states disagreed whether the ruling meant portions of the law already enacted were now unenforceable. Vinson put on hold enforcement of his ruling, conditioning that order upon the U.S. seeking the expedited review within seven days.

“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the better off our entire nation will be,” Vinson said in his March 3 ruling responding to the request for clarification.

The appellate case is State of Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, 11-11021, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta). The lower-court 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).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net

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