Constitutionality of health care reform challenged

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A Florida district judge ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional Monday because of its mandate requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a penalty. State attorney generals from 26 states, including Texas, filed a lawsuit shortly after President Barack Obama signed the law in March, which would require Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said if the law is upheld, it would open the door for the U.S. Congress to make other mandates. “It looks like a brilliant decision,” Abbott said at a press conference Monday. Abbott said this is one step in the judicial process, and the federal government is expected to appeal the ruling. He anticipates the case to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court. “For the first time in American history, Congress created a requirement on all Americans to go out and purchase a product,” Abbott said. “The judge saw through exactly what Congress was doing, struck down their actions, ending Obamacare across the country.” Roger Vinson, a U.S. district judge from Pensacola, Fla., wrote in his ruling the health care law raises important issues about the constitutional role of the federal government. He wrote Congress did not have power under the Commerce Clause — which grants the federal government power to regulate interstate commerce — to pass the law. “In short, the defendants’ argument that people without health insurance are actively engaged in interstate commerce based on the purported “unique” features of the much broader health care market is neither factually convincing nor legally supportable,” Vinson wrote. In December, a federal district judge appointed under former President George W. Bush ruled the law was unconstitutional. Two other federal district judges appointed under former President Bill Clinton upheld the constitutionality of the law. The rulings were split along party lines. “Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution,” Vinson wrote. “Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void.” UT law professor Sanford Levinson said this ruling is not surprising because of the judges’ Republican party affiliation. “That simply reflects the fact that the opposition [of the law] is led by conservative Republicans in the judiciary,” Levinson said. “It’s no big surprise. [Vinson] is a conservative Republican who has signaled his skepticism of the bill.” In a statement he released in response to the ruling, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said the law taxes and spends too much without improving health care. “Instead of growing government, we must build on the legislation I passed out of the Texas Senate in 2009 to create private sector alternatives to Obamacare and prevent its unconstitutional infringement on Texans,” he said.