Vinson To Hear Federal Health Care Lawsuit Beginning Today
September 14, 2010
Escambia County will take center stage this week in the fight over the federal health care law that consumed Congress for the better part of a year, and along with it, so will a Pensacola judge who is no stranger to hot button issues.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, a Reagan nominee to the bench who presided over two high profile abortion clinic violence cases in the 1980s and 1990s, will hear oral arguments on the U.S. Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against the health care law by Florida and 18 other states on Tuesday.
The arguments will include Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Pensacola courtroom.
The plaintiffs, the states, argue that the health care law illegally requires all citizens and legal residents to have health care coverage or pay a tax penalty, which they say is a violation the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The plaintiffs also say the law runs afoul of the states’ rights guaranteed in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The defendant, the U.S. Justice Department, counters that overturning the health care law would unduly expand judicial review of Congress and other government branches. More specially, the DOJ argues that Congress has the power to determine how federal money appropriated for Medicaid may be spent and can give states an option of setting up their own health exchanges or having the federal government do so.
Vinson, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, has indicated he knows the legal world will be waiting for his verdict, but that it will almost certainly be immediately appealed no matter which way he comes down. The case is widely expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, which means a final legal decision could take years.
Other than the timing and allowing the arguments on the merits of the case to be heard, Vinson has not said much about the non-jury proceeding. But Ben Gordon, a Fort Walton Beach lawyer who clerked for him from 2000-2002, said Vinson will likely keep the lawyers from both sides on their toes.
“He will be a very intelligent judge who does a lot of his own work,” Gordon said, which made clerking for Vinson “interesting because he wouldn’t just rely on what I and other clerks told him.”
“He’ll educate himself and have read all the key cases,” Gordon said. “I anticipate he’ll ask probing questions on both sides. It’ll be interesting to watch. I believe he will have some questions the lawyers might not anticipate. He’ll be that engaged in this.”
Vinson, 70, is no stranger to cases involving issues at the center of national debates. In 1985, Vinson sentenced two men, Matt Goldsby and James Simmons, to 10 years in prison for their role in bombing an abortion clinic, though he made them eligible for early parole and gave Goldsby’s fiancée and Simmons’ wife, who were convicted of conspiracy, to five years probation. Nobody was killed in the bombing.
Vinson also presided over the federal trial of Paul Hill, who was convicted and later executed for the 1994 murders of a Pensacola abortion provider and a volunteer escort at an abortion clinic. Hill was sentenced to death in state court, but Vinson sentenced him to two additional life terms for violating the federal clinic access law. Hill was executed in 2003.
In 1988, Vinson also made news when he overturned an Escambia County ban on the film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Vinson also dismissed a case in 1998 that was brought by Medal of Honor winner Bud Day of Fort Walton Beach, who sued the government on behalf of military retirees who said they weren’t getting promised adequate medical care.
More recently, Vinson has been a visiting judge in Texas, where he has heard the case of a federal judge in Houston who was charged with sexually harassing female court employees.
By Keith Laing
The News Service Florida