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.

Sorting it all out will be Vinson, a senior judge at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola.

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


5 Responses to “Vinson To Hear Federal Health Care Lawsuit Beginning Today”

  1. David Huie Green on September 14th, 2010 5:33 pm

    “Why did they push legislation requiring EVERY CITIZEN have health care and
    then file suit against Arizona for requiring proof of citizenship as being illegal?”

    You know, I hadn’t considered the two in tandem. So all citizens are required to have health care insurance but not required to prove they are citizens and therefore required to have health care insurance, therefore they are NOT required to have health care insurance.

    David with spinning head
    may need health care
    too dizzy to check

  2. anydaynow on September 14th, 2010 2:36 pm

    rocknrollnole-you are correct about my misspelling, thanks for the heads up. Holding my breath.

    There are many reasons why everyone should be insured.When uninsured individuals seek routine health care it is very expensive for local, state and the federal government and even more so when they require emergency or trauma care. It is important that there be medical documents available on everyone, also, if we are to have a modern day health system. A living will, a document that records your wishes for your care should you be in a position to not be able to speak for yourself is also important. The U.S. has lagged behind in health care standards for many years now and we really need to catch up. When matters have reached the point that Cuba has world class health care and the U.S. does not, then we need to get to work. People who can afford to do so leave the U.S. for their health care, going to Vietnam, India, Georgia, Cuba, South Korea, Brazil….much better care, for much less money.

  3. rocknrollnole on September 14th, 2010 11:22 am


    And citizens of North Florida of which I am one will be watching to see if you do something about that “baited” breath. I believe the word you are looking for is “bated”, a shortened version of “abated” which means “reduced, lessened, lowered in force”. So bated breath refers to a state in which you almost stop breathing as a result of some strong emotion, such as terror or awe. “Baited” breath means that you havent brushed your teeth in several days.
    Anyway, FL citizens mostly believe in the right to decide what we spend our money on and the obamination administration should not have the ability to fine us for not having insurance, which they incidentally do not have the right to make us purchase anyway.

  4. anydaynow on September 14th, 2010 7:17 am

    I will be watching with baited breath to see what sort of attitude and degree of compassion that NW Florida exhibits for their fellow Americans.

  5. JP on September 14th, 2010 7:16 am

    I wouldn’t hold my breath in hopes the courts will give us any relief from the Feds
    taking over control of every aspect of our lives. Afterall, health care is, to the
    governent, a tax issue. Taxes will always go up.

    If you think the Democrates know what they are doing let me ask this question. Why did they push legislation requiring EVERY CITIZEN have health care and
    then file suit against Arizona for requiring proof of citizenship as being illegal?

    It has nothing to do with “racial profiling” either. If so, how any KKK members
    does one look for in the NAACP?

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