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Judge declares Obama health-care law 'void' in its entirety

A federal judge in Florida rules that the health-care law passed by Congress last year is unconstitutional. Three other federal judges have also ruled on the health-care law – one against, two in favor – setting up a potential Supreme Court showdown.

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During a Dec. 16 hearing in Pensacola, Fla., Vinson questioned whether Congress could force the nation to eat broccoli or to buy shoes. Others have questioned whether federal lawmakers have the authority to order citizens to buy a particular brand of car as a form of economic stimulus.

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Lawyers defending the health-care statute say there is a significant difference between broccoli and health insurance. If no one eats their broccoli the government will not be forced to pick up the tab, they say. In contrast, the individual mandate is a way to regulate the costs of health-insurance across the country, they say.

Inactivity as economic activity

Vinson disagreed. He said under the commerce clause, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, Congress is empowered to regulate economic activity, but not inactivity.

“If [Congress] has the power to compel an otherwise passive individual into a commercial transaction with a third party,” the judge wrote, “it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted.”

The judge rejected arguments by the government that an individual’s decision not to buy health insurance is, itself, an activity with economic consequences that the federal officials can regulate.

“Every person throughout the course of his or her life makes hundreds or even thousands of life decisions that involve the same general sort of thought process that [government lawyers] maintain is ‘economic activity,’ “ the judge said. “There will be no stopping point if that should be deemed the equivalent of activity for commerce clause purposes.”

'A defectively designed watch'

In striking down the entire law, Vinson said he felt it should be up to Congress rather than a judge to determine which portions of the statute – other than the stricken individual mandate – should remain in the reform measure.

“This act has been analogized to a finely crafted watch,” Vinson said. “It has approximately 450 separate pieces, but one essential piece (the individual mandate) is defective and must be removed.”

He added: “The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”

The three earlier decisions upholding and overturning the health-care bill are currently on appeal before the Fourth and Sixth US Circuit Courts of Appeals. Vinson’s decision is expected to be appealed to the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

After that, any or all of the cases, could be appealed to the Supreme Court.

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