States: Judge clearly meant to halt work on the healthcare law

The 26 states and a business group that successfully challenged the healthcare reform law in federal court said the judge clearly meant to halt implementation of the healthcare overhaul.

The comments from the states and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), filed in a Florida federal court Wednesday evening, came a week after the Obama administration sought clarification on a Jan. 31 ruling that struck down the entire reform law.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson was the first to rule the entire law unconstitutional. Vinson, a Reagan appointee, said the law’s requirement for individuals to purchase insurance was unconstitutional and not severable from the rest of the 2,700-page law enacted 11 months ago.

In light of Vinson’s ruling, some states have declared the reform law effectively dead unless an appellate court reverses the decision. Florida has returned federal grants for implementation, while Alaska has turned down another.

The 26 states and NFIB called the Obama administration’s request for a clarification a thinly-veiled attempt to request a stay.

“If the Government was not prepared to comply with the Court’s judgment, the proper and respectful course would have been to seek an immediate stay, not an untimely and unorthodox motion to clarify,” the plaintiffs wrote. “Defendants’ Motion is, in fact, a transparent attempt, through the guise of seeking clarification, to obtain a stay pending appeal.”

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The administration has argued in its clarification request that the individual mandate does not go into effect until 2014, which gives the plenty of time for appellate courts to decide on its constitutionality. Meanwhile, a number of provisions in the healthcare overhaul have already taken effect or require immediate action.

The administration has three days to respond to the states and NFIB, and Vinson said he will then respond “promptly” to the clarification request.

Meanwhile, the numerous challenges to the reform law have played out along party lines. A third federal judge — all Clinton appointees — on Tuesday upheld the individual mandate. A federal judge who struck down the individual mandate in December was appointed by George W. Bush.

The Florida case will likely go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Two other challenges have already reached the appellate level, and the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in sometime in 2012.