Health care judge to feds: Get moving on appeal

By John O'Brien | Mar 4, 2011


PENSACOLA, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge is wondering why the U.S. Government has not appealed his January decision that ruled federal health care reform unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson on Thursday filed a clarification of his Jan. 31 ruling, as was requested by the feds. In it he says the government has one week to file its appeal, and that his decision to void the entire health care package will be stayed pending appeal.

Vinson expressed a desire for the appeals process to be accelerated, in order for business owners and others with a heavy interest in a resolution to be appeased. He also wrote that he decided to treat the government's motion for clarification as a motion to stay his decision to save time.

"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, and at that point in time present their arguments for why such a stay is necessary, which is the usual and standard procedure," Vinson wrote.

"It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the Act, and only then file a belated motion to 'clarify.'"

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi accused the government of deliberately delaying the case. Florida is the lead state in the 26-state lawsuit.

"Everyone knows this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice should join us in seeking an expedited appeals process," Bondi said. "This issue is too important for delay, and we urge the President to file an appeal in the appropriate appellate court, as was done in Virginia and Michigan. It is in the country's best interest to present this case before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as possible."

The states are challenging a $695 annual penalty that will be imposed on individuals who do not purchase health insurance. Virginia, in a separate lawsuit, is defending a state law that says none of its residents can be penalized for not purchasing health insurance.

Vinson found that Congress was unconstitutionally regulating economic inactivity, and because the mandate is too integral a part to be separated, Vinson voided the entire legislation. He called it "a difficult decision to reach."

"If Congress intends to implement health care reform -- and there would appear to be widespread agreement across the political spectrum that reform is needed -- it should do a comprehensive examination of the Act and make a legislative determination as to which of its hundreds of provisions and sections will work as intended without the individual mandate, and which will not," he wrote.

"It is Congress that should consider and decide these quintessentially legislative questions, and not the courts."

The federal government argues that Congress acted within its authority and that the mandate is vital to the success of the overall package.

In a footnote in his Thursday order, Vinson called out the government for what he considered contradictory statements.

"The defendants have suggested in reply to the plaintiffs' response that the reason for the delay was due to the fact that my order 'required careful analysis,' and it was only after this 'careful review' that the defendants could determine its 'potential impact' with respect to implementation of the Act," Vinson wrote.

"This seems contrary to media reports that the White House declared within hours after entry of my order that 'implementation will proceed apace' regardless of the ruling."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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