Monday, January 31, 2011

Virginia and Florida healthcare rulings nearly identical

Judge Vinson in the federal court for the Northern District of Florida has declared the federal health care law unconstitutional and void in total.  Opinion here.  The Florida case began with much broader and more numerous grounds for the unconstitutionality of the law than the other successful lawsuit (for the time being) in Virginia. 

Judge Vinson, in October, dramatically reduced the scope of the Florida lawsuit, but allowed it the case to continue on two major grounds.  Opinion here.

1. Did the health care reform package violate the constitution in imposing additional unfunded burdens on the states through Medicaid?;
2. Is the individual mandate unconstitutional?

The largest difference between the Florida and the Virginia case is the challenge based on Medicaid coverage.  This was the portion of the lawsuit that brought 26 states together in the Florida case.  The Plaintiffs in the Florida case lost this issue, it did not even appear close.  Judge Vinson makes reference to the Plaintiffs barely arguing a major legal test, and points to the critical factor that Medicaid participation by states is optional.

That being set aside, the only thing left to rule upon is the individual mandate:

In today's opinion, Judge Vinson ruled (just as in the Virginia decision) that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

In today's opinion, Judge Vinson (just as in the Virginia decision) decided an injunction against enforcement of the law is unnecessary as declaratory judgment against the government works essentially the same person.

So what was the difference?  Severability.

When part of a law is considered unconstitutional, if it can be severed from the remainder of the law, and the law still achieve most if not all of its purpose, the unconstitutional portion will be stricken, and the remainder of the law will be allowed to stand.

Judge Hudson in Virginia cited a lack of evidence on the issue of severability to determine the individual mandate must be struck down, but the remainder of the law is presumed valid and constitutional.

The main difference between the two cases are repeated admissions in the Florida case of a legal point made in a brief by an attorney that the individual mandate can not be severed, and then compared to the numerous references to the individual mandate in the bill itself.  This is discussed by Judge Vinson in pages 68-73.

So Judge Vinson found enough evidence to declare the whole law invalid.  Essentially both Judges in Virginia and Florida came to the same ruling on constitutionality with a different ruling on remedy which will be sorted out in the 4th and 11th Circuits and then the Supreme Court.

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