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Florida judge rules health care law unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the health care reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in March is unconstitutional.

Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee serving in Pensacola, Florida, ruled that key components of the law are unconstitutional and that the entire law "must be declared void."

In the decision, Vinson writes:

"... I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care 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.

Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void."

 

You can read the decision here.

Today’s decision is the second ruling by a federal judge against the constitutionality of the health care legislation. Two other federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the law, including its requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty.

While the lawsuit addressed in Vinson’s ruling is the largest of its kind – with 26 states having signed on – today’s decision is likely just one more step in the law’s march to the United States Supreme Court.

But this is the biggest court victory yet for opponents of the law's requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.

*** UPDATE *** NBC's Pete Williams has more:

A federal judge in Florida has declared the new health care law unconstitutional, ruling in a lawsuit brought by 26 states against the federal government. It's the biggest court victory yet for opponents of the law's requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.

Judge Roger Vinson found the entire law unconstitutional, after declaring that its key element -- the health insurance mandate -- was a law Congress did not have the power to enact.  Opponents of the law claimed that while the government can regulate the activities of people engaged in commerce, like the insurance industry, it cannot regulate someone's inactivity -- that is, someone's refusal to buy insurance.  It's an argument the judge found persuasive. 

"It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause," he said.  If that were true, he said, "it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted."  If Congress could reach so broadly, "we would have a Constitution in name only," he said.

Judge Vinson rejected the Obama administration's argument that no one truly opts out of the health care system, because everyone eventually needs medical attention.  In that sense, the judge said, health care is no different than many human activities.

"There is quite literally no decision that, in the natural course of events, does not have an economic impact of some sort. The decisions of whether and when (or not) to buy a house, a car, a television, a dinner, or even a morning cup of coffee also have a financial impact that --- when aggregated with similar economic decisions --- affect the price of that particular product or service
and have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. To be sure, it is not difficult to identify an economic decision that has a cumulatively substantial effect on interstate commerce; rather, the difficult task is to find a decision that does not," he said.