Health care ruling most significant one yet

WASHINGTON (BP)--A federal judge's sweeping invalidation of last year's health-care law has given opponents of the controversial measure probably their most significant victory to date.

Judge Roger Vinson of Pensacola, Fla., ruled Jan. 31 the law's requirement that Americans purchase health insurance was unconstitutional. He struck down the entire law, because he concluded the "individual mandate" could not be separated from its other provisions.

Vinson's opinion leaves the health-care law's count in federal court at 2-2. Federal judges in Michigan and Virginia have upheld the law, while another federal court in Virginia nullified the "individual mandate" but permitted the rest of the law to stand. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to have the final say on the measure's fate.

Meanwhile, foes of the law -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- renewed their calls for the Senate to follow the example of the House of Representatives. In a 245-189 vote Jan. 19, the Republican-controlled House backed repeal of the entire law.

Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, however, and appear certain to prevent passage of the repeal proposal. If the bill were to reach President Obama, he would undoubtedly veto it.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) "will continue to press" senators to vote for repeal, said Barrett Duke, the entity's vice president for public policy.

Describing Vinson's decision as "very encouraging," Duke said, "The health-care law is certainly a disturbing intrusion by the federal government in Americans' lives. While I believe our country can do much better in assuring the availability of affordable, quality health-care insurance to everyone who wants coverage, the government's heavy-handed, bureaucratic solution is not the way to achieve that goal."

Speaker of the House John Boehner applauded the ruling, saying the health-care law is "not only unconstitutional, it's also unaffordable."

The uncertainty the law has imposed upon small businesses should prompt both sides to urge the Supreme Court to deal with it quickly, Boehner said in a written statement. "Of course, the easiest way to protect the American people from this job-destroying health care law is to repeal it so we can start over with common-sense reforms," he said, urging Senate leaders to schedule a vote.

The Department of Justice announced it plans to appeal Vinson's decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Ga. "We strongly disagree with the court's ruling today and continue to believe -- as other federal courts have found -- that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional," a department spokesman said in a written statement.

Opposition to the health-reform law has been based not only on the "individual mandate" and government intrusion but on its authorization of subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion and what they say is the likelihood of an increase in both the federal deficit and taxes.

Some foes of the law expressed disappointment Vinson did not block enforcement of the law.

"It is unfortunate that the judge did not put an immediate stop to the law's implementation," Duke said. "It is likely to take years before the issue is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. By then, much of the law will be in place, with many millions of people adversely affected."

The law will not take full effect until 2014.

Vinson's 78-page opinion came in a challenge to the law brought by the state of Florida and joined in by 25 other states.

The judge ruled the "individual mandate" in the law exceeded Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. He said "activity is required" under the clause but the "individual mandate seeks to regulate economic inactivity."

"If [Congress] has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party" by contending such an act is commercial and impacts interstate commerce, "it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted," Vinson wrote.

In explaining his decision to strike down the entire law, Vinson said it was evident the "individual mandate" was "an essential and indispensable part" of health reform. "I must conclude that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit," he wrote.

Ken Klukowski, special counsel for the Family Research Council, said Vinson's opinion "makes clear that as long as the mandate is in place, the entire law rests on an unconstitutional foundation. If the foundation crumbles, the whole law falls."

Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., announced Jan. 31 all 46 other Republicans in the Senate are cosponsors of his bill to repeal the health-care law, which has been dubbed "Obamacare." No Democratic senators have agreed to be cosponsors.

If the repeal effort fails, House Republicans have indicated they will target specific provisions in the health-care reform law for change.

The 25 states joining Florida in the suit were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.


Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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