PENSACOLA, Fla. — A federal judge ruled Thursday that parts of a lawsuit by 20 states seeking to void the Obama administration's health care overhaul can go to trial, saying he wants hear additional arguments from both sides over whether the law is unconstitutional.
In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said it needs to be decided whether the plan violates the Constitution by requiring individuals to have health insurance or be penalized through taxes and by overburdening the states by expanding their Medicaid programs. Another federal judge in Michigan threw out a similar lawsuit last week.
Vinson set a hearing for Dec. 16. The lawsuits will likely wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum issued a statement praising the ruling as a victory.
“It is the first step to having the individual mandate declared unconstitutional and upholding state sovereignty in our federal system,” McCollum said.
He filed the lawsuit just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. He chose a court in Pensacola, one of Florida's most conservative cities.
The Obama administration has argued the federal government can require that citizens buy health insurance or face tax penalties under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
The administration's attorneys had told Vinson last month that without the regulatory power to ensure young and healthy people buy health insurance, the health care plan will not survive. They also argued it's up to an individual taxpayer — not the states — to challenge the section requiring health insurance when it takes effect in 2015.
But David Rivkin, an attorney representing the states, argued the law will destroy the states' constitutional sovereignty by burdening them with uncontrolled Medicaid costs. The federal government is overreaching its taxing authority by penalizing people for not taking an action — not buying health insurance, he said.
Vinson's ruling comes a week after District Judge George Caram Steeh in Detroit said the mandate to get insurance by 2014 and the financial penalty for skipping coverage are legal. He said Congress was trying to lower the overall cost of insurance by requiring participation.
There is also a lawsuit pending in Virginia. A federal judge there has allowed the lawsuit to continue, ruling the overhaul raises complex constitutional issues.
The other states involved in the lawsuit Vinson is hearing are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.