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Judge rules health care overhaul unconstitutional- now what?

January 31, 2011

In a closely watched lawsuit  involving more than 25 states, Judge Roger Vinson has ruled the nation’s health care overhaul unconstitutional.  The decision hinges on the so called “individual mandate” requiring most Americans to buy health insurance.

The folks over at Slate have sorted through the ruling to find an explanation.  Here’s an idea of Vinson’s thought process-

It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place.

Unlike a previous Virginia judge who ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional but left the rest of the law alone, Vinson says because the entire law depends on the individual mandate to succeed, the entire law is unconstitutional.  Ezra Klein over at The Washington Post offers this analysis-

The full ruling has a very Bush v. Gore feeling, as Vinson concedes that his position is activist in the extreme and a break from the court’s usual preference for limited rulings, but says, in effect, that he’s going to do it just this once. “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,” Vinson writes, “but non-severability is required based on the unique facts of this case and the particular aspects of the Act. This is not a situation that is likely to be repeated.” Italics mine.

Bill Vernon with Rhode Island’s chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses calls the ruling  a victory-

The mandates, penalties and regulatory burdens imposed by this law are costly and confusing to Rhode Island small businesses. We are very pleased by the judge’s ruling today and we are confident that higher courts will agree that the law is an unprecedented and unconstitutional power-grab by the federal government.

But what does all of this mean? For now, nothing.  Judge Roger Vinson says the law may remain in effect until all chances of appeal have run out. That means we have to wait for a ruling from the Supreme Court for the final word.

So far, two judges appointed by Democrats have ruled the health overhaul  law constitutional and now two judges appointed by Republicans have called it unconstitutional. Let’s see if the decisions continue to split along party lines.

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