Judge Orders 'Expedited Appeal' of Obamacare for the Good of the Nation

By Susan Jones | March 4, 2011 | 8:10 AM EST

House Minority Leader John Boehner appears with a copy of the Democrats’ version of the health care bill during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

(CNSNews.com) - A federal judge in Florida, clearly annoyed by the Justice Department's request for "clarification" of his ruling that the new health care law is unconstitutional, on Thursday granted a stay of his February ruling -- but only if the government files an appeal seeking an expedited review of that ruling, either in the Court of Appeals or with the Supreme Court, within 7 days.

Judge Roger Vinson noted that the Obama administration has had more than a month to file an appeal and has not yet done so. "It should not be at all difficult or challenging to 'fast-track' this case," he wrote in his clarification.

"It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward as soon as practically possible."

In clarifying his order, Judge Vinson noted that he declared the health care law's individual mandate unconstitutional -- and because the individual mandate provision cannot be separated from the rest of the law, "the entire legislation was void."

"This declaratory judgment was expected to be treated as the 'practical' and 'functional equivalent of an injunction,'" Vinson wrote in Thursday's clarification. But instead, he added, the Obama administration ignored the order and continued implementing the law.

If the defendants were unable to comply with Vinson's ruling, "it was expected that they would immediately seek a stay of the ruling, and at that point in time present their arguments for why such a stay is necessary, which is the usual and standard procedure. 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.

'An unusually strong rebuke'

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, speaking on Fox News Friday, called Judge Vinson's clarification "an unusually strong rebuke" to the Obama administration. He noted that Judge Vinson "called out the administration for dragging its feet."

Abbott said the administration's foot-dragging is deliberate: The more time the administration has to implement parts of the complicated law, the harder it will be to abolish it. That’s why they’re “slow-walking” the case to the Supreme Court.

Abbott said if the Obama administration does not comply with Judge Vinson's order to file an expedited appeal, "I believe...the judge will entertain motions to hold the White House, the Obama administration, in contempt of court -- and that is exactly what we attorney generals will be requesting, if they fail to expedite an appeal within 7 days."

Abbott noted that 26 states are challenging the health care law, which "sends a strong signal to the United States Supreme Court, this is a matter that needs to be stricken down," even if parts of the health care law do begin to “permeate” the U.S. health care system.

In his clarification, Judge Vinson noted that the Democrats' health care law would "comprehensively reform and regulate" more than one-sixth of the economy.

"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. The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be," Vinson wrote.

'Compelling arguments on both sides'

In his clarification, Judge Vinson admitted that there are "strong and compelling arguments" on both sides of the case.

"I cannot say that the defendants do not have a likelihood of success on appeal. They do. And so do the plaintiffs. Although I strongly believe that expanding the commerce power to permit Congress to regulate and mandate mental decisions not to purchase health insurance (or any other product or service) would emasculate much of the rest of the Constitution and effectively remove all limitations on the power of the federal government, I recognize that others believe otherwise.

"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."

Even the Supreme Court is likely to split on the issue, Vinson said.

"Ultimately, I ruled the way I did, not only because I believe it was the right overall result, but because I believe that is the appropriate course for a lower court to take when presented with a (literally) unprecedented argument whose success depends on stretching existing Supreme Court precedent well beyond its current high water mark and further away from the 'first principles' that underlie our entire federalist system. Under these circumstances, I must conclude that the defendants do have some (sufficient for this test only) likelihood of success on appeal."

The Justice Department, in response, welcomed Judge Vinson's granting of a stay -- which will allow the law's provisions to continue pending the administration’s appeal to the 11th Circuit.

“We appreciate the court’s recognition of the enormous disruption that would have resulted if implementation of the Affordable Care Act was abruptly halted," the Justice Department said.  

“We strongly disagree with the district court’s underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe – as three federal courts have found – that this law is constitutional. There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Affordable Care Act and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”