Policy-ish

Federal Judge In Florida Rules Health Overhaul Violates Constitution

A federal judge in Florida didn't need a trial to decide that the federal health overhaul violates the Constitution.

In a closely watched case Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida has ruled that the law's mandate that everyone have insurance starting in 2014 or pay a fine is unconstitutional. His full decision is 78 pages long. But his one-page summary judgment here really says it all.

As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, Vinson took a big legal step by saying the mandate couldn't be separated from the rest of the law, so the whole overhaul of health care should be tossed.

Just about everyone expected Vinson to declare the individual mandate to be beyond Congress' power under the Constitution's Commerce Clause. Still, many also expected Vinson would allow most of the rest of the law to stand, as a federal judge in Virginia did in December.

Vinson, however, showed no interest in half-measures. He wrote:

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. The individual mandate cannot be severed.

That's a pretty unusual legal stand, which he acknowledged:

This conclusion is reached with full appreciation for the "normal rule" that reviewing courts should ordinarily refrain from invalidating more than the unconstitutional part of a statute, but non-severability is required based on the unique facts of this case and the particular aspects of the Act.

Attorneys general in 26 states had joined to bring the case in conjunction with two individuals and the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business group.

This is the fourth district court decision to reach a decision on the merits of the health law. Two have upheld its constitutionality; two have found it unconstitutional. All are being appealed.

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