In a major blow to the White House, a federal judge in Virginia ruled Monday that a key provision of the new national health care reform law is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson said that forcing individuals to purchase health insurance was in violation of the Constitution's "commerce clause," The Washington Post
The courts cannot enforce the law's requirement that Americans be fined if they don't have health insurance by 2014, the judge said in a 42-page opinion.
"Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market," Hudson wrote. "In doing so, enactment of the [individual mandate] exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I [of the Constitution.]"
While Hudson ruled the so-called "individual mandate" unconstitutional, he did say that other broad portions of the law are legal and can go forward. Because the mandate doesn't go into effect for four years, the judge said he saw no reason to halt implementation of the law as a whole.
The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in Virginia by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. He argued on the AG's website
that "buying health insurance can be said to be an act of commerce. However, if someone doesn't buy insurance, they are by definition not engaging in commerce. This legislation greatly oversteps the Commerce Clause."
Twenty states and the conservative National Federation of Independent Businesses are challenging the sweeping law's controversial insurance mandate. Insurance companies say they would lose money without the requirement, but the lawsuit claims it's an abuse of federal power because it would penalize people for not insuring themselves.
Obama's initiative to overhaul the nation's $2.5 trillion health care system
passed in March after a long and contentious process.
Hudson is the third district court judge to reach a determination on the merits of lawsuits filed against the health law The others -- in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va. -- have upheld the law. Lawyers on both sides said the appellate process could last another two years before the Supreme Court settles the dispute.
Hudson has a long history in Republican politics in Northern Virginia, and his decision seemed to underscore the White House's contention that such lawsuits are more political assaults than constitutional challenges, the New York Times