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Vinson Orders Feds to Move Fast on Health-Care Law Appeal

March 3, 2011 - 6:00pm

A federal judge excoriated the government Thursday for moving forward with the federal health care law despite his ruling against it, but he put a stay on his own order to give the government a week to appeal.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in essence ordered the government to get that appeal moving quickly saying the matter was of such consequence it should be fast-tracked. A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice said the government will appeal to the 11th Circuit, but didnt say when.

Vinson also said he had thought his order finding the massive federal health care law was easy to understand: he ruled that it violates the Constitution. And the tone of his clarifying order was decidedly perturbed that the Obama administration sought a clarification.

The administration had noted that the main part of the law that was found unconstitutional by Vinson the individual mandate for buying health insurance doesnt go into effect until 2014, by which time the question of its constitutionality is likely to have been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Vinson said in his clarification that he had believed the federal government would stop implementation after his ruling.

It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the Act, and only then file a belated motion to clarify, Vinson wrote.

Vinson, a Reagan appointee who sits in Pensacola, said he now expected the government would ask for a stay of his order pending an appeal, but said there was no need to wait for the administration to ask. Vinson went ahead and put the order on hold but with the condition that the government get moving and file an appeal within a week. The matter is of such import, and in such doubt, that it is in everyones interest to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

The Act seeks to comprehensively reform and regulate more than one-sixth of the national economy, Vinson wrote. It does so via several hundred statutory provisions and thousands of regulations that put myriad obligations and responsibilities on individuals, employers, and the states.

It has generated considerable uncertainty while the constitutionality of the Act is being litigated in the courts, Vinson continued. The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be. And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my order and judgment and still the defendants have not filed their notice of appeal.

Vinson also acknowledged the governments argument that ultimately, it would be hard to put the law in place without getting going on planning for its implementation. All the more reason for a swift appeal to get the matter settled, Vinson essentially said.

We appreciate the courts recognition of the enormous disruption that would have resulted if implementation of the Affordable Care Act was abruptly halted, Justice Department spokesperson Tracy Schmaler said in a statement. We welcome the courts granting of a stay to allow the current programs and consumer protections, including tax credits to small business and millions of dollars in federal grants to help states with health care costs, to continue, pending our appeal in the 11th Circuit.

The state of Florida was the lead plaintiff of 26 states challenging the law. One of the major concerns of the states is that the new law is expected to require the addition of large numbers of people to the states Medicaid rolls. Most of the plaintiff attorneys general are also Republicans, and generally opposed to the Obama administrations efforts to require people to buy health insurance.

The National Federation of Independent Business joined the states as a plaintiff.

An expedited appeals process for this case is very good news for NFIB and the small-business community, NFIBs Florida director, Bill Herrle, said in a statement. The governments attempts to stymie the judicial process are simply prolonging the uncertainty surrounding the law and do a disservice to the states, small-business owners and individuals who are seeking resolution.

While blasting the federal government for not following his initial order, and for slowing the case down, Vinson also wrote candidly about the lack of clear agreement on the legal nature of the case saying that precisely because it is no slam dunk legally, it ought to continue to move up the legal chain.

The individual mandate has raised some novel issues regarding the constitutional role of the federal government about which reasonable and intelligent people (and reasonable and intelligent jurists) can disagree, Vinson wrote. Despite what partisans for or against the individual mandate might suggest, this litigation presents a question with some strong and compelling arguments on both sides.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who campaigned in part on continuing to pursue the lawsuit against the federal health care law, said she was pleased with Vinsons reaffirmation of the unconstitutionality of the law, but said she was disappointed he was allowing the government to continue to implement the law pending the appeal.

While we are disappointed that the stay was granted, we are satisfied that DOJ now has only seven days to file their appeal and seek expedited review or they will lose the stay, Bondi said.

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