In Florida, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson has rejected an effort by the Obama Administration to dismiss a challenge of the health care law and has ordered the case to proceed — even criticizing the position of the Administration as “Alice in Wonderland” arguments.
While dismissing a couple claims, Vinson allowed two of the major counts to go forward: the states’ challenge to the controversial requirement that nearly all Americans buy insurance and a required expansion of the Medicaid program. The former is the issue that was the subject of a prior column where I expressed concern over the constitutionality of the law. I also previously told congressional members and staff that I believed that this approach was unnecessary to achieve these results and would raise serious constitutional questions.
Vinson noted that the Democrats claimed at different times that the mandate was a penalty and a tax. He ruled that it is in fact a penalty. In stinging language, Vinson noted “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, thereby circumventing the safeguard that exists to keep their broad power in check.”
We previously discussed the shifting between the insistence that this is a tax versus a penalty in public statements — a failure of the Administration to adopt a consistent public position despite its obvious importance to the anticipated litigation. This lawsuit was filed minutes after President Obama signed the bill. This is a rather embarrassing failure of the Justice Department and White House counsel to educate Democratic leaders, including President Obama, on the need to adopt a consistent position of the mandate as a tax.
Vinson acknowledged that a district judge in Michigan upheld the power of Congress in another challenge, but ruled that the issue is not settled and that these powers claimed by Congress “have never been applied in such a manner before.”
The Florida lawsuit was filed on behalf of 20 states.