Policy-ish

Judge Calls Time Out, Gives Breathing Room To Health Law

The legal fun house just got even more convoluted for the federal law overhauling health care.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson issued a stay of his own ruling at the end of January that found the federal health overhaul violates the Constitution.

In a recapitulation of the previous decision, Vinson makes clear that he intended for the ruling to bring implementation of health overhaul to a halt:

This declaratory judgment was expected to be treated as the 'practical' and 'functional equivalent of an injunction' with respect to the parties to the litigation.

So, he sniffed, if state and federal governments couldn't comply, they should have asked for a stay instead of just asking for a clarification while going on their merry way.

But now, on second thought, Vinson concludes an injunction might not be such a hot idea after all. And he beat the defendants to the punch by treating their request for clarification as a request for a stay in "this time-is-of-the-essence case." (You can read the full order here.)

Vinson writes that the plaintiffs, led by the federal government, showed:

the 'significant disruption' and 'wide-ranging and indeterminate consequences' that could result if implementation of the entire Act must stop immediately [see Def. Mot. at 4, 7-11], and, upon review and consideration of these arguments, I agree that it would indeed be difficult to enjoin and halt the Act's implementation while the case is pending appeal. It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty.

So a stay is justified, Vinson decides. But there's a catch. Vinson tells the defendants they have to file their appeal of his ruling in the case within a week. The appeal, he writes, can be lodged with the Court of Appeals, or straight to the Supreme Court. And, for good measure, he wants the defendants to ask for an expeditied review of the case.

Vinson concludes that just about everyone agrees the Supreme Court will have the final say. He writes, "It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon practically possible."

Update:

The Justice Department has read Vinson's opinion and just issued the following statement:

We appreciate the court's recognition of the enormous disruption that would have resulted if implementation of the Affordable Care Act was abruptly halted. We welcome the court's granting of a stay to allow the current programs and consumer protections, including tax credits to small business and millions of dollars in federal grants to help states with health care costs, to continue pending our appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.

We strongly disagree with the district court's underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe – as three federal courts have found – that this law is constitutional. There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Affordable Care Act and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.

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