Challenge of health law can continue

The Washington Times

A federal court judge in Florida ruled Thursday that key portions of a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s health care reform law can go forward, and accused the Justice Department of taking an ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ approach to its defense of the controversial “penalty” for people who don’t buy insurance.

Though it’s just a preliminary ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson’s decision to let the case proceed is a victory for opponents of the law, since it means he will ultimately decide the merits of the challenge brought by 20 states.

Judge Vinson said the states can challenge the constitutionality of whether provisions in the law violate state sovereignty through expansion of the Medicaid program and if Congress exceeded its authority by forcing people to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

Judge Vinson questioned whether lawmakers called the provision a “penalty” instead of a “tax” simply to avoid political blowback.

“Congress should not be permitted to secure and cast politically difficult votes on controversial legislation by deliberately calling something one thing, after which the defenders of that legislation take an ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’ tack and argue in court that Congress really meant something else entirely,” wrote Judge Vinson, a 1983 appointee of President Reagan.

The 20 states argue that the penalty imposed for failing to obtain health insurance, a provision of the law that goes into effect in 2014, exceeds Congress’ power through the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The Justice Department, in turn, argued that Congress’ authority to impose the penalty comes from its broader authority to collect taxes.

“This ruling confirms the significance of this lawsuit in protecting against the federal health care act’s intrusions on individual liberty and limited government,” said Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a former congressman who filed the constitutional challenge. He applauded the judge’s decision.

During the legislative debate the Obama administration repeatedly denied the penalty amounted to a tax, but changed its tune when the time came to defend the law in the courts. Administration lawyers concluded the taxing power in the Constitution is broader than the government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce, and therefore more likely to be upheld as a valid exercise of federal powers.

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