Pensacola Judge: Health Care Lawsuit Can Continue

October 15, 2010

Florida and 19 other states can continue their quest to throw out a controversial federal health care law, a U.S. District Judge in Pensacola ruled Thursday in an order that sets the stage for further proceedings challenging President Barack Obama’s national health reform effort.

Judge Roger Vinson, who heard arguments for and against dismissing the case last month, ruled in favor of the states, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and two individuals on two key provisions in granting them approval to continue their challenge.

In a 65-page ruling, Vinson dismissed four of six counts, including arguments that law violated the states’ due process rights; that the mandate amounted to coercion instead of taxation and interfered with the state’s sovereignty.

But unlike fellow U.S. District Judge George Steeh, who dismissed a similar case in Michigan last week, Vinson agreed with the states that the health care law could violate the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause and could be considered an undue expansion of Medicare. Despite arguments by the U.S. Department of Justice seeking dismissal of all counts, the judge said those issues must be decided by the court.

“Starting in the First World War, there have been at least six attempts by the federal government to introduce some kind of universal healthcare insurance coverage,” Vinson wrote. “At no point — until now — did it mandate that everyone buy insurance (although it was considered during the healthcare reform efforts in 1994.) While the novel and unprecedented nature of the individual mandate does not automatically render it unconstitutional, there is perhaps a presumption that it is.”

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who filed the Florida lawsuit the same day President Barack Obama signed the health care law in March, hailed Vinson’s decision, which sets the stage for hearing Dec. 16 asking Vinson to summarily throw the health care law.

“This ruling is a victory for the states, small businesses and the American people,” McCollum said in a statement. “It is the first step to having the individual mandate declared unconstitutional and upholding state sovereignty in our federal system and means this case will go forward to the summary judgment hearing that the court has set for December 16th.”

Attorneys for the federal government said Thursday they remain confident that the federal law will stand. They argued last month that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress broad taxation powers and that the government could levy penalties for non-compliance.

“The judge saved for another day the decision on the merits of two claims, and we remain confident that the law ultimately will be upheld,” said DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler. “The only Court that has decided the constitutionality of this law has sustained it and found that the minimum coverage provision was a reasonable step for Congress to take in reforming the nation’s health care system.”

In his ruling Thursday, Vinson cautioned both sides in the Florida case not to take his decision to allow the case to proceed as a final statement on the merits of the health care law. That would come by the end of the year, according to a schedule lawyers on both sides agreed to last month, he said.

“In this order, I have not attempted to determine whether the line between constitutional and extra constitutional government has been crossed,” the Florida judge wrote. “That will be decided on the basis of the parties’ expected motions for summary judgment, when I will have the benefit of additional argument and all evidence in the record that may bear on the outstanding issues.

“I am only saying that (with respect to two of the particular causes of action discussed above) the plaintiffs have at least stated a plausible claim that the line has been crossed,” Vinson concluded.

Vinson, a 1983 Reagan nominee who has presided over high profile cases with national implications before, did not accept federal arguments that the mandate was protected by federal taxation powers. During oral arguments last month, he pointed out that President Obama and Congress went to great lengths to say the health care law was not a tax.

“For that reason, the defendants are wrong to contend that what Congress called it ‘doesn’t matter,’” he wrote. “To the extent that the label used is not just a label, but is actually indicative of legislative purpose and intent, it very much does matter. By deliberately changing the characterization of the exaction from a ‘tax’ to a ‘penalty,’ but at the same time including many other ‘taxes’ in the Act, it is manifestly clear that Congress intended it to be a penalty and not a tax.”

Joining Florida in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Vinson is the second judge in recent months to reject the government’s arguments that those challenging the new law lack standing and their claims are not ripe for adjudication. In August, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Virginia refused to dismiss another challenge brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He will hold a summary judgment hearing on Oct. 18.

NFIB Executive Director Bill Herrle lauded Vinson’s decision to disagree with federal lawyers, who argued that NFIB did not have standing to sue against the lawsuit on behalf of its members and that Florida residents Mary Brown and Kaj Ahlburg who don’t have insurance and don’t want it, could not challenge the suit because the mandate has not yet taken effect. The mandate is not schedule to take effect until 2014.

“Now pundits can’t just summarily dismiss this as a frivolous political gesture,” Herrle said Thursday. “This has to be taken seriously by all Americans.”

By Keith Lang, The News Service Florida


11 Responses to “Pensacola Judge: Health Care Lawsuit Can Continue”

  1. David Huie Green on October 17th, 2010 3:43 pm

    “It seems the wealthy Judge is comfortable looking down his nose and snearing at the poor and uninsured even though taxpayers subsidize his Cadillac health care plan. ”

    Notice how you assume he is looking down his nose at the poor because he has been asked to judge the Constitutionality of a law–to do his JOB. And why do you assume he is looking down his nose at them? Because you assume he is guilty of class hatred or contempt. Usually those who despise in others what they have not yet shown are those who have it in themselves, or so it seems to me.

    And why does he have a good paying job? Most likely because he worked hard and has the mind to perform the job. He probably didn’t win it in the Lottery. But some despise hard workers and smart people.

    And assuming part of his pay is good health care, that is part of the pay–a reason to aspire to certain jobs. if all jobs paid equally, how many would take the harder ones?

    It was impressive that the President opposed very good health care insurance (as did John McCain); he wanted people to have some insurance, but not too much, not too good.

    David for pointing out jealousy

  2. David Huie Green on October 17th, 2010 3:33 pm

    “The corporations might have a bit of a challenge trying to outsource or offshore nursing jobs, dental hygienist jobs, and physicians jobs, won’t they??”

    It might actually make them more tempted to do just that. Consider even if they had to provide health care insurance for all their workers anywhere, it might be cheaper to use health care in other countries and to hire workers in those countries.

    It would be interesting if an attempt to help Americans shifted their jobs elsewhere.

    David considering possibilities

  3. David Huie Green on October 17th, 2010 3:18 pm

    “or getting a free policy based on your ability so that taxpayers don’t have to keep footing the bill when folks have to go to the ER ”

    A policy which costs nothing to the insured or the taxpayer?

    Assuming doctors, nurses, hospitals are paid for their services, where does the money come from??

    David the fascinated

  4. huh on October 16th, 2010 1:52 pm

    Wish the states could make a public option , and leave the private options as is. Seems simple enough

  5. Just Laughing on October 16th, 2010 4:56 am

    Got a cute email today that said —–

    “BAIL’EM OUT!!! ???? Heck, back in 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it.. They failed and it closed.. Now, we are trusting the economy of our country, our banking system, our auto industry and possibly our health plans to the same nit-wits who couldn’t make money running a whore house and selling whiskey?!”

    “What the Heck are we thinking”

  6. anydaynow on October 15th, 2010 9:41 pm

    Something that JimW and the Judge seem to be unaware of is that people who like accurate information and are interested in the benefits of the health care bill for themselves and their family members have sought out that accurate information. Any small business owner certainly is interested in the new benefits they will receive for providing health benefits for their employees, which includes themselves, especially that 35-50% REFUND and the fact that insurance companies will now have to COMPETE for customers. I know people who are THRILLED that insurers can now no longer deny them coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, and that your policy will now no longer have a lifetime limit payout. It really stinks when 52 year old people are going through short-term chemotherapy and their insurance RUNS OUT, or you need to have your thyroid gland removed and there’s not enough “balance” left on your policy to pay for the simple surgery. I like the idea that people will be expected to obtain insurance by buying a policy, getting a subsidized policy or getting a free policy based on your ability so that taxpayers don’t have to keep footing the bill when folks have to go to the ER when they have the flu because they don’t have insurance or money to pay out of pocket. I like that people, everyone, will be able to GO TO THE DOCTOR WHEN THEY ARE SICK, instead of having to go to school or to work sick AND without medicine. I like that because everyone will have access to health care that the demand for health care workers will increase rather quickly because there surely are a lot of people who need job training and jobs. The corporations might have a bit of a challenge trying to outsource or offshore nursing jobs, dental hygienist jobs, and physicians jobs, won’t they??
    It seems the wealthy Judge is comfortable looking down his nose and snearing at the poor and uninsured even though taxpayers subsidize his Cadillac health care plan. And surely he knows that the majority of Medicaid recipients in Fraudia actually are working folks and that Medicaid is primarily a corporate subsidy.
    Of course folks who have financial investments in corporations like the idea of those corporations keeping their overhead low by hiring people part time and not offering them any benefits.

    Stop and think, Peeps. Care about your fellow Americans.

  7. Jim W on October 15th, 2010 4:07 pm

    Sounds like this Judge might actually have some common sense. I have been in the insurance business longer than I care to remember and I can say. What the Feds are trying to do is a control issue more than a need issue. 85% of the nation has health insurance in one form or another. Those forms are indiviual, employer group, Medicare, Medicaid and so on. The balance that need the help are COBRA where they have been terminated from employment, people who just refuse to get it regardless, and Illegal’s . I agree there are some who need the help but there is a system already in place for them and that is called Medicaid or Medicare. All they would have to do is change the criteria and thresholds and they would be there. But instead they want to put our children and their children in debt way into the future. As a side note I did identify the two programs in place now and I think we all know the associated problems those two plans have and the Government thinks it can run this new health care program. I think not when the Government says it is here to give you something you better be grabbing your wallet and holding on to it for dear life because they will take it away if you don’t.
    Jim W

  8. Becca on October 15th, 2010 4:05 pm

    WHAT A TOTAL SHAM. McCollum was ignorant enough to higher Rent-a-boy George Rekers as an “expert witness” as to why gays in floriduh should be prohibited to adopt. Yes, AG Mccollum wasted over $100,000 to pay his faux christian friend. Rekers paid a male prostitute to travel w/him abroad last summer, and the he found him on a highly exclusive, very private site that is gay/pornographic. I sick and tired of these cretins. Every WAL MART EMPLOYEE, and the rest of the BIGGEST COMPANIES in floriduh keep employees at 38 hrours a week, rendering them ineligible for company insurance. GUESS WHAT……….THEY ARE ALL ON MEDICARE BECAUSE THEY LIVE IN -POVERTY. McCollum and his ilk are shills for the insurance companies, and the FOR PROFIT HEALTHCARE OUTFITS…………for example, HCA………..YOU KNOW, THE ONE RICK SCOTT used to steal from us taxpayers. He must have stolen a bundle to be able to afford a fine that was 2.3 BILLION. Also, there is no such thing as a CONSERVATIVE. Why do they keep calling themselves that???

  9. The Doer on October 15th, 2010 6:12 am

    People better get their heads out of the sand and stand up for what’s right. Thank you, Judge Vinson!

  10. Out for Justice on October 15th, 2010 3:01 am


  11. Tony Harper on October 15th, 2010 12:26 am

    Wonderful I say! This decision puts this fraudulent healthcare law one step closer to the trash can where it belongs. November cannot come fast enough…

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