U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson today became the second judge to strike down a key element of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ruling the so-called individual mandate, which will require Americans to buy health insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty, unconstitutional.
In his decision, Judge Vinson 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.”
Judge Vinson was appointed in 1983 to the bench of the Federal District Court in Pensacola, Florida, by President Reagan. In ruling the mandate unconstitutional, Judge Vinson sided with the plaintiffs: governors and attorneys general (all but one Republicans) from 26 states. Because of the number of plaintiffs in the case being greater than half of the states in the union, this ruling carries more weight than the more than two dozen suits attacking the law which were previously filed in federal courts. It is expected that the case will likely wind up on the Supreme Court’s docket after appeals in lower courts.
Although two other federal judges, both Democrats appointed by President Clinton, have denied challenges to the individual mandate, last month Judge Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court in Richmond, Virginia also struck down the law, saying the mandate would result in “unbridled exercise of federal police powers.” Both Judge Vinson and Judge Hudson are Republicans. Both judges refused to enjoin the law, ruling that it could remain in place pending appeals.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that the insurance requirement is an unprecedented attempt to regulate inactivity, because citizens would be assessed an income tax penalty for failing to purchase a product. They further argued that if the mandate is allowed to stand, there effectively will be no limits on federal authority.
In a swipe at the entire health care act, Judge Vinson wrote in his decision, “The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”
According to The New York Times, “The Pensacola case now likely heads to the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, considered one of the country’s most conservative appellate benches. The Richmond case is already with another conservative court, the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, which has set oral arguments for May.”