Updated 5:45 p.m. ET
A federal judge in Florida became the first Monday to declare the new health care law – in its entirety – unconstitutional.
It is the biggest challenge yet to the new law, with governors and attorneys general from more than half of the states signing onto the lawsuit.
Florida’s former Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit just minutes after President Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. Since then, 25 other states have joined, including Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Maine two weeks ago. Almost all the states suits have been brought by Republican governors and attorneys general.
In his 78-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson wrote, “Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”
At issue are two key aspects of the law.
The first centers around the “individual mandate,” which requires most Americans to buy heath insurance by 2014 or pay a fine. That fine would be $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater. By 2016, the penalty increases to $695 dollars, or 2.5 percent of income. By imposing such a mandate, the law exceeds the powers of the United States under the commerce clause of the Constitution.
Judge Vincent wrote: “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire act must be declared void. This has been a difficult decision to reach, and I am aware that it will have indeterminable implications.”
The states also charge that the new law places an unfair financial burden on already cash-strapped states by adding 16 million people to Medicaid.
Ron Pollack, the Executive Director of Families USA, called the judge’s decision “radical judicial activism run amok.” He added, “The decision flies in the face of three other decisions, contradicts decades of legal precedent, and could jeopardize families’ health care security.”
So far, two federal challenges to the law have been struck down in separate lawsuits in Virginia and Michigan.
But, last month, a federal judge in Richmond, Va., ruled the law unconstitutional. At the time, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said “ordering Americans to buy health insurance, as the bill does, is beyond Congress’ power in the Commerce Clause.”
There are at least two dozen other pending cases filed in federal courts by states and private parties against the law.
Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government applauded today’s ruling, and said it’s time to go one step further. In a statement, he wrote: “Congress needs to act now to defund the regulation writing on this unconstitutional law to prevent further damage from being done to our nation’s health care system.”
The House of Representatives voted to repeal the healthcare reform law earlier this month. But, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he won’t bring it to a vote in the Senate.
The Obama administration announced they’ll appeal today’s ruling. In a statement, the Department of Justice said: “There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”
The White House also responded to the ruling in a blog post on its website.
White House officials called the decision “a plain case of judicial overreaching.” Stephanie Cutter, Assistant to the President and Deputy Senior Adviser, said the judge’s findings are “at odds with decades of established Supreme Court law” because Judge Vinson failed to preserve any part of the law in his ruling.
Another administration official called some of the judge’s reasoning “quite frightening” saying much of the decision was “unconventional” and built on “rhetorical conjecture.”
And officials said they did not expect today’s decision to slow down or stop implementation of the law, including a huge expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor in 2014, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Find more coverage on Rx for Reform.