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Florida judge rules health-care law unconstitutional

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A federal judge in Florida has found that Congress has exceeded its authority in passing sweeping health-care reform in 2010 by including the individual mandate that people must purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. Indiana had joined with 25 other states, two individuals, and the National Federation of Independent Business to challenge the law.

Indiana joined the lawsuit in May 2010 that sought to declare “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” unconstitutional. U.S. District Senior Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, denied in October 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the two surviving claims. Those claims challenged the individual mandate requiring people to purchase health care by 2014 and the altering and expansion of Medicaid.

Senior Judge Vinson issued a 78-page ruling Monday in State of Florida, by and through Attorney General Pam Bondi, et al. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 3:10-CV-91, devoting most of the opinion to the individual mandate issue. He granted the government’s motion for summary judgment on the Medicaid claim, ruling there’s no support for the state plaintiffs’ coercion argument in existing case law. The states argued they will face serious financial and practical problems because of alterations to the Medicaid program.

But because the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on the individual mandate issue, he struck down the entire law, ruling that the individual mandate can’t be severed from the Act.

“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.

Senior Judge Vinson reiterated in his opinion that his case isn’t about whether the law is wise or unwise legislation, but is about the constitutional role of the federal government.

“This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications. At a time when there is virtually unanimous agreement that health care reform is needed in this country, it is hard to invalidate and strike down a statute titled ‘The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,’” he wrote. “In closing, I will simply observe, once again, that my conclusion in this case is based on an application of the Commerce Clause law as it exists pursuant to the Supreme Court’s current interpretation and definition. Only the Supreme Court (or a Constitutional amendment) can expand that.”

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued a statement late Monday in response to the ruling, saying he expects the federal government to appeal. In December, a federal District Court in Virginia had ruled in favor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which brought a challenge to the health-care law. That court found portions of the law to be unconstitutional, including that the individual mandate violates the Commerce Clause.

“It was unprecedented for the federal government to claim it can require individuals to purchase a commercial health insurance product or pay a penalty. The sovereign states had an obligation to bring this respectful legal challenge to test whether this claim was constitutional. It is essential that the question be asked of and answered by the United States Supreme Court. Today’s ruling in Florida finding that a portion of the law is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause is historic, and an important check on the scope of the federal government’s power,” Zoeller said.

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