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Judge Strikes Down Health Care Law

Updated: 4:20 p.m.

President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law has been ruled unconstitutional in its entirety in a legal decision handed down Monday by a federal district judge in Florida.

Federal District Judge Roger Vinson, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, was ruling on the law’s individual mandate provision. But in striking down the directive that Americans obtain health care insurance, Vinson voided the entire statute because it did not include a severability clause, which could have allowed portions to be struck down without affecting the balance of the law.

However, Vinson did not order a halt to the implementation of the law. Full implementation is not due to occur until 2014, and most legal observers expect the Supreme Court to ultimately decide the various legal challenges. 

Republicans lauded Vinson’s decision.

“Simply put, Congress does not have the legal authority to tell Utahans and other Americans that they must buy health insurance or else,” Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a statement. “The Constitution empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but not to tell the American people what they must buy.”

The Utahan was one of nearly three-dozen Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), to join a friend-of-the-court brief in the case to urge that the law be overturned.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), echoing most Democrats, described the decision as without merit as he encouraged Republicans to abandon their effort to repeal the law and join Democrats in focusing on job creation. The GOP-led House has already passed a repeal bill, and Senate Republicans have vowed to force a vote on that legislation, although sufficient Democratic opposition exists to block it.

“This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt by those who want to raise taxes on small businesses, increase prescription prices for seniors and allow insurance companies to once again deny sick children medical care,” Reid said in a statement. “Health care reform is the law of the land and, now that Americans see its benefits, a majority of them oppose Republicans’ dangerous plans to repeal a law that put patients in control of their own health care.”

Vinson wrote in his decision: “I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate. That is not to say, of course, that Congress is without power to address the problems and inequities in our health care system. The health care market is more than one sixth of the national economy, and without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market. That has not been disputed in this case. The principal dispute has been about how Congress chose to exercise that power here.”

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” Vinson wrote.