Judge Orders: Appeal Obamacare Now

Judge Vinson gives the Obama Justice Department one week to act.

Florida U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson bluntly told the Department of Justice to get its Obamacare appeal to a higher court in seven days. In effect, he said he wasn’t kidding when he ruled the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare) is unconstitutional.

The Department of justice Feb. 20 had asked Judge Vinson in what’s called a “Motion to Clarify” if he really meant what he ruled. DOJ, in an obvious stalling move, asked for more information on the meaning of Vinson’s decision.

Judge Vinson’s 78-page, erudite ruling Jan. 31 gave in detail the legal concepts of the commerce clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” to buy insurance and “severability.” He declared that because the mandate was unconstitutional and such a vital element of the whole legislation that it could not be “severed.” So, the whole law was unconstitutional and void.

Judge Vinson’s response to the DOJ March 3 was brusque. “While I believe my order was as clear and unambiguous as it could be,” he wrote. “It is possible that the defendants may have perhaps been confused or misunderstood its import.”

In his 20-page answer to the DOJ, Judge Vinson was critical of the Justice Department lawyers’ delay in waiting almost more than four weeks before filing their motion asking to clarify what was abundantly clear. “The defendants have seemed to have continued to move forward and implement the Act,” Vinson’s ruling was quoted in the Daily Caller.

The Florida judge repeated his finding that Congress had exceeded its authority when it passed the mandate that individuals either had to buy insurance or pay a fine. He again said that the mandate was unseverable from the other sections of the act. Therefore, the entire act was void. He said that his order applied to all provisions of the law.

While acknowledging that the Supreme Court will be the final arbiter of the case, Vinson told the Justice Department to move with haste in making its appeal to the Court of Appeals. “The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” he wrote.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler gave this response to Judge Vinson’s latest ruling:

We appreciate the court’s recognition of the enormous disruption that would have resulted if implementation of the Affordable Care Act was abruptly halted. We welcome the court’s 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 Eleventh Circuit.

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. [Three courts have found the law constitutional, but their rulings have not been of the powerful, all-encompassing, and legalistically persuasive nature of Judge Vinson’s decision.] 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.

Thus, a brazen display of overconfidence from a slap-hazard department.

The Vinson ruling also had strength in that 26 state attorneys general were plaintiffs in the case as well as the Federation of Independent Business.

The DOJ’s Motion to Clarify seemed to ask the judge to define the meaning of the decision for the government is considered procedural but unusual. In this case, Judge Vinson issued Summary Judgment for the plaintiffs, meaning there were no issues of fact to decide. So, the only matters to be decided were questions of law. The result of this Summary Judgment was a Declaratory Judgment that declared as a matter of law the individual mandate and the whole Affordable Care Act were unconstitutional.

Judge Vinson declined to issue an injunction, which would have required detailing for the parties their exact duties connected with his decision. It would have required special hearings to take up legal questions.

Judge Vinson also did not issue a stay of the effect of his order. A stay would have meant that the parties would not be bound by it until a higher court made a decision based on the appeal. Because Judge Vinson didn’t stay his order, its effect was immediate and effective unless overturned by a higher court.