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Florida Judge Strikes Down Health Care Overhaul

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the health care overhaul law is unconstitutional. He agreed with 26 state attorneys general who charged that the federal government cannot impose a requirement on people to buy health insurance. The ruling is one of several in district courts for and against the law.

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And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama's health care law has now been rejected in its entirety by a federal judge. He was hearing a case brought by 26 states. And Judge Roger Vinson ruled the law is unconstitutional. Of the many judges who've heard challenges to the law, Vinson is the second to reject a specific provision -the plan to require Americans to buy health insurance. He is the first to throw out the entire law. NPR's Julie Rovner has more.

JULIE ROVNER: It wasn't exactly a surprise to those on either side of the health debate when Judge Vinson sided with opponents.

Mr. RON POLLACK (Executive Director, Families USA): There was little doubt when you listened to the oral argument that he wanted to rule unconstitutional this individual responsibility provision.

ROVNER: Ron Pollack heads Families USA, an advocacy group that supports the law.

But what has people scratching their heads is that Judge Vinson found that without the individual insurance requirement, none of the rest of the law should stand, either.

Pollack, a former law school dean, says that flies in the face of decades of court precedents, which say that when a judge finds a portion of a law unconstitutional, he or she is supposed to preserve as much of the rest of the law as possible.

Mr. POLLACK: Here what the judge did was he really decided, what the heck, I'm going to invalidate the entire statute, even provisions that have nothing to do with the provision that was being considered for review.

ROVNER: But making the entire law go away is just fine with the National Federation of Independent Business. The small business group was one of the plaintiffs in the Florida lawsuit, along with 26 states and two individuals. Karen Harned head's the business group's legal center.

Ms. KAREN HARNED (Executive Director, National Federation of Independent Business): Quite frankly, the entire law has been a very big burden on small businesses, and so we would like to see Congress start over.

ROVNER: And now, says Harned, the group hopes this decision will make the Obama administration rethink its implementation efforts for the law.

Ms. HARNED: It would be our hope that the administration would take a deep breath before they go forward implementing any more of it until we get the issue of whether or not it is, in fact, constitutional resolved.

ROVNER: But that's not going to happen. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they have no intention of changing their implementation plans on the basis of one district court judge's ruling, which they plan to appeal.

And besides, says Pollack of Families USA, this case is clearly an outlier. So far, he notes, 16 cases filed against the law have been disposed of. Twelve have been dismissed on technicalities. Two judges have found the law constitutional. And now two have not.

Mr. POLLACK: One of them invalidated the individual responsibility provision but did not invalidate any other part of the statute. This is such a radical departure. I mean, this is the worst form of judicial activism I've seen in a long, long time. And I just don't think this can stand.

ROVNER: But for now it's giving ammunition to opponents of the law who continue to try to turn the public against it. While Pollack says he's optimistic that Judge Vinson's ruling will be overturned, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said just the opposite. He's optimistic the ruling will be upheld, eventually by the Supreme Court.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): And if so, that would take the bill down and we can start over and make the kind of targeted reforms that will reduce the cost of American health care without this massive Washington takeover.

ROVNER: All four district court decisions are now heading for appeals courts.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington� Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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