A Florida federal judge on Monday ruled that a key plank of the health overhaul passed last March violates the Constitution, dealing a second judicial blow to the Obama administration's signature legislative achievement.
The case is considered the most high-profile of a series of federal lawsuits against the health overhaul. Attorneys general and governors from 20 states initially filed the lawsuit, and six more got behind it earlier this month. All but four of them are Republicans.
In his ruling, Judge Roger Vinson, a Republican appointee, said that the law's requirement to carry insurance or pay a fee "is outside Congress' Commerce Clause power, and it cannot be otherwise authorized by an assertion of power under the Necessary and Proper Clause. It is not constitutional."
The ruling also said that entire law "must be declared void," because the mandate to carry insurance is "not severable" from the rest of the law.
That differed from an earlier ruling against the law by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson in Virginia. Judge Hudson found that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but he said his ruling applied only to the part of the law that established the mandate and any directly dependent provisions that refer to that part. Exactly what that applied to was unclear.
Judge Vinson, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, ruled against the plaintiffs and in favor of the Obama administration on one point, saying that the law's expansion of the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for the poor does not violate the Constitution.
He wrote that states "have little recourse to remaining the very junior partner in this partnership."
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