Parts of a lawsuit filed by 20 states challenging the Obama administration's health care overhaul can go to trial, a federal judge in Pensacola, Fla., ruled Thursday.
In a written ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson said he wants to hear arguments from both sides on whether the plan violates the Constitution by requiring individuals to have health insurance and by overburdening states by expanding their Medicaid programs. A federal judge in Michigan threw out a similar lawsuit last week.
The lawsuits will likely wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Obama administration says 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.
Florida's Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the lawsuit just minutes after President Barack Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law in March. Pensacola is one of Florida's most conservative cities.
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.
A lawsuit is also 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.
This program aired on October 14, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.