Health Reform Law Struck Down, White House Calls It “Judicial Activism” (UPDATED)


Updated with a statement from the National Women’s Law Center’s Marcia D. Greenberger, 1/31/11, 6:14pm EST.

The New York Times is “scoring” it at 2-2. A federal judge in Florida ruled on Monday that the new health reform law violates the constitution, a similar decision to a Virginia judge in December. Thus far, two judges have also ruled in favor of maintaining the new law as is.

The White House called the ruling “well out of the mainstream of judicial opinion” saying:

Twelve federal judges have already dismissed challenges to the constitutionality of the health reform law, and two judges – in the Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Virginia – have upheld the law.   In one other case, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a very narrow ruling on the constitutionality of the health reform law’s “individual responsibility” provision and upheld the rest of the law. 

Judge Vinson ruled that the new law is unconstitutional because it requires that all Americans purchasing health insurance of some form or be penalized, thereby representing an excessive use of power by the government in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The law is allowed to remain in place, however, pending appeal by the Obama administration. According to the New York Times:

Like a Virginia judge in December, Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court in Pensacola, Fla., said he would allow the law to remain in effect while the Obama administration appeals his ruling, a process that could take two years. But unlike his Virginia counterpart, Judge Vinson ruled that the entire health care act should fall if the appellate courts join him in invalidating the insurance requirement.

The White House contests the over-reach argument in its blog saying:

Those who claim that the “individual responsibility” provision exceeds Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce because it penalizes “inactivity” are simply wrong. Individuals who choose to go without health insurance are actively making an economic decision that impacts all of us. People who make an economic decision to forego health insurance do not opt out of the health care market.

The article is also quick to point out the partisan divide in this and prior rulings. Like the Virginia judge (Judge Henry Hudson) before him, Judge Vinson has Republican ties, having been appointed by President Ronald Reagan. The plaintiffs in the Florida case, Republican attorneys general and governors, filed in Florida for the assurance that they’d receive a more “sympathetic” judge. 

However, Judge Vinson did rule against the plaintiffs in one area:

In a silver lining for the Obama administration, the judge rejected a second claim that the new law violates state sovereignty by requiring states to pay for a fractional share of a Medicaid expansion that is scheduled for 2014.

Judge Vinson, the first judge to address that question, dismissed the contention that states were being illegally coerced by the federal government. He said they always have the option, however impractical, to withdraw from Medicaid, a joint state and federal insurance program for those with low-incomes.

Still, the White House notes that under this ruling “seniors will pay higher prices for prescription drugs, small businesses will pay higher taxes” and policies barring exclusion of coverage based on pre-existing conditions would be reinstated. Right now, these and a number of other provisions including expanding coverage for dependent children up to 26 years old have already gone into effect, drastically improving health coverage for millions of Americans.

As well, the National Women’s Law Center’s Co-President, Marcia D. Greenberger, a key advocate  in the fight for health reform, notes,

“Women and their families need this health care law. Without it, insurance companies could once again treat women as pre-existing conditions and drop them when they get sick and need health care the most. Women could once again be denied insurance coverage if they have had cesarean sections or have been survivors of rape or domestic violence under the guise that these are pre-existing conditions. Women could once again be charged higher premiums than men, preventing many women from being able to secure affordable, comprehensive coverage.”

The White House blog invokes a historical context for the challenges faced by the Affordable Care Act:

History and the facts are on our side. Similar legal challenges to major new laws — including the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act — were all filed and all failed. And contrary to what opponents argue the new law falls well within Congress’s power to regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the General Welfare Clause.

What’s next? It could take up to two years to make it through the appeals process. However, this decision does empower Congressional Republicans. The House recently passed a full scale repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Now, according to Roll Call’s political reporter in Washington DC, David Drucker,  Senator Jim DeMint’s office has said the full Senate Republican Conference is “now co-sponsoring their version of a health care reform repeal bill.”

Meanwhile, push-backs ignited by President Obama’s effort to ensure all American men, women and children have access to health care seem to focus primarily on women’s access to legal, safe abortion care, and now a push to re-define rape by Rep. Chris Smith in his “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.”

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