According to Bloomberg a legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul can proceed, a federal judge ruled, turning aside Justice Department arguments that the lawsuit led by the state of Florida is at best premature.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola today allowed portions of the claims by 20 states to go forward, as he forecast he would after a day of oral arguments last month. The requirement to purchase health insurance is “simply without prior precedent,” Vinson wrote, allowing the suit to proceed.
“People have no choice and there is no way to avoid it,” Vinson wrote in the 65-page decision. “Those who fall under the individual mandate either comply with it, or they are penalized.”
Vinson previously scheduled arguments for Dec. 16 on whether the law, signed by Obama in March, is constitutional.
The judge threw out Florida’s claims that the law interferes with the state’s sovereignty as an employer and that the individual mandate violated the right to due process of law.
The focus of efforts to undo what the administration considers a key legislative achievement now shifts to Richmond, Virginia, where a similar lawsuit by the state survived a bid for dismissal in April. A judge there scheduled an Oct. 18 hearing on the law’s constitutionality.
The states contend that the requirement that all Americans buy health insurance exceeds the constitutional power of Congress.
The government counters that the mandate is covered by its authority to regulate interstate commerce, since billions of dollars a year in unpaid medical bills are absorbed by the market.
Joining Florida in the suit were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington. The National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group, also joined.
The Florida and Virginia suits were filed within minutes of Obama’s signing the legislation.
Besides its effect on individuals, the legislation puts an unconstitutional burden on state budgets by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care for the poor, the states say.
In a Sept. 14 hearing, Vinson questioned whether people who don’t buy health insurance can be considered actively participating in commerce and taxed for it. The U.S. previously claimed that the possibility of being injured and unable to pay medical bills is enough to draw a link between commerce and taxation.
“They are attempting to take inactivity and are making it activity,” said Randy Barnett, a constitutional-law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center said in an interview before the ruling. “The question of whether something is activity, and you don’t make inactivity into activity by saying is has an effect.”
The case is State of Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10-cv-00091, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida (Pensacola).