A federal judge in Virginia, Henry E. Hudson, ruled that one part of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law is unconstitutional. The judge, appointed by George W. Bush, said Congress overstepped its constitutional bounds in requiring most people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
The insurance mandate is not due to go into effect until 2014.
Two other federal judges, one in Michigan and another Virginian, ruled earlier that the law was constitutional.
Some two dozen states with Republican leadership have filed lawsuits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 since the measure was signed into law in March.
A federal court in Florida will hear a lawsuit filed by 20 states opposing the plan on much the same grounds as Virginia's: that requiring people to buy health insurance goes beyond the reach of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution that grants the federal government authority to regulate commerce between states.
It is widely expected that one of these cases will eventually wind up in front of the Supreme Court.
The Republicans have staked much of their political capital on tearing down the Obama administration's historic achievement. But HuffingtonPost.com and Gawker.com report major conflicts of interest regarding Judge Hudson and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, also a Republican.
Political Affairs editor Joel Wendland writes, "Hudson partially owns a company called Campaign Solutions, Inc., which worked to elect hardliners Reps. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and failed presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"Federal rules do not require federal judges to disclose exactly how much they earn from outside sources, but legal papers suggest he may have earned as much as $108,000 from his partial ownership in that company.
"Hudson's company also helped launch Sarah Palin's PAC. In another glaring conflict of interest, the Virginia state attorney general who filed the lawsuit was a client of Hudson's company in 2010 and paid $9,000 for its services."
On Dec. 14, the day after the judge issued his ruling, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius published an op-ed in the Washington Post saying they "are confident that the law will ultimately be upheld."
White House health advisor Stephanie Cutter told NPR the administration will continue implementing the law. "The law is already making a difference in people's lives," she said. "You know, college kids can get on their parents' plans when they graduate. Children can no longer be discriminated against if they have a preexisting condition. An insurance company can no longer drop you if you get sick."
Administration officials also said Hudson's ruling was narrow in scope, striking down only the individual mandate and leaving the rest of the law alone. The implementation fight is now shifting to the states.
Meanwhile, legal experts say Hudson's ruling has a "flaw" that could cause the decision to be thrown out.
Talking Points Memo reports that Hudson's decision has an "elementary logical flaw at the heart of the opinion." According to one law professor the ruling improperly conflates the Constitution's Commerce Clause and its Necessary and Proper Clause.
In his opinion, Hudson wrote, "If a person's decision not to purchase health insurance at a particular point in time does not constitute the type of economic activity subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause," then "an attempt to enforce such provision under the Necessary and Proper Clause is equally offensive to the Constitution."
That's wrong! legal beagles say.
The Necessary and Proper Clause, they argue, permits "Congress to take steps beyond those listed in the Constitution to achieve its Constitutional ends, including the regulation of interstate commerce." Such a flaw
The flaw in the ruling could lead to the opinion being thrown out, even by a conservative panel of judges, experts say.