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A Florida federal judge on Monday struck down the nation’s new health care reform law after finding that Congress exceeded its lawmaking power by requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. The ruling by Senior Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida was not unexpected. Vinson last October telegraphed some of his sentiments in a ruling that allowed the case — Florida v. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services — to move forward on the merits. The ruling now evens the score for the Obama administration: Two district courts — one in Virginia and another in Michigan — have upheld the act’s constitutionality, while two other federal courts — a second in Virginia and the Florida court — have struck it down. “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,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice in a statement. “There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law.” Vinson faced two key challenges in the case brought by 26 states, two individuals and the National Federation of Independent Business: changes to the nature and scope of the Medicaid program and the so-called individual mandate. The state challengers argued that the Medicaid provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act violated the Constitution’s spending clause and amounted to unconstitutional coercion. They insisted they had no choice but to remain in the Medicaid program, which, because of onerous new requirements, would eventually “run their budgets off a cliff.” But Vinson rejected the challenge. “It is simply impossible to resolve this factual dispute now as both sides’ financial data are based on economic assumptions, estimates, and projections many years out,” he wrote in his 78-page decision. “In short, there are numerous genuine disputed issues of material fact with respect to this claim that cannot be resolved on summary judgment. However, even looking beyond these presently impossible-to-resolve disputed issues of fact, there is simply no support for the state plaintiffs’ coercion argument in existing case law.” On the challenge to the individual mandate, Vinson accepted the states’ arguments that requiring the purchase of insurance was an attempt by Congress to regulate “inactivity.” Congress, he said, can only regulate “activity” under its commerce clause power. “It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause,” said Vinson. “If it has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party merely by asserting — as was done in the Act — that compelling the actual transaction is itself ‘commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce,’ it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.” Finally, Vinson examined whether the unconstitutional mandate could be severed from the rest of the law which, he said, had a number of provisions that did not create constitutional problems. He said it could not, explaining, “In the final analysis, this Act has been analogized to a finely crafted watch, and that seems to fit. It has approximately 450 separate pieces, but one essential piece (the individual mandate) is defective and must be removed. It cannot function as originally designed.” Vinson did not issue an injunction, saying his declaratory judgment was sufficient. In a statement on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “This ruling confirms what Americans have been saying for months: The health spending bill is a massive overreach and Democrats ‘exceeded the bounds’ of Congressional authority under the Constitution in passing the law with the individual mandate.” Vinson’s ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, according to the Justice Department. The Obama administration was supported in the case by a number of consumer, patient advocate and medical organizations. The 4th Circuit just last week set an expedited briefing and argument schedule for its review of the two Virginia cases: Sebelius v. Commonwealth of Virginia, and Liberty University v. Geithner. All briefing is to be completed by April 18 with a hearing date for May 10-13. Both cases will be heard on the same day, according to that court. The Michigan case — Thomas More Law Center v. Obama — is now before the 6th Circuit. Briefing was completed last week, but no argument date has been scheduled. A case is also pending in the 9th Circuit — Baldwin v. Sebelius, which a district court dismissed for lack of standing. Marcia Coyle can be contacted at [email protected]

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