DOJ asks federal judge to clarify health care ruling

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Thursday asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify his ruling [motion, PDF] to require states to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [text; JURIST news archive] during the pendency of the government's appeal. In the motion, the government focused on the substantial uncertainty that would be faced by people who currently enjoy benefits from portions of the law that went into effect immediately. The motion also focused on the fact that the portion of the law ruled unconstitutional, the minimum coverage mandate, is not scheduled to go into effect until 2014, meaning there would be no prejudice to states if they would be required to enact the earlier-scheduled provisions. The government additionally noted the significant number of states, including those that are parties to this suit, have applied for funding under enacted portions of the law. The government concluded by focusing on Vinson's own words from the grant of summary judgment [opinion, PDF]:

The Court gave no indication, however, that it intended or anticipated the specific potential disruptions of ongoing programs and operations (discussed above) and the questions that would arise about which parties are bound by the Court's order while the appellate courts resolve constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act. And despite its clear recognition of the complexity of the [law] and the difficulty in determining how the reasoning of its declaratory judgment would affect existing programs, this Court expressly declined to grant "injunctive relief enjoining implementation of the Act."
The DOJ also expressed its intent to appeal Vinson's ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website].

Vinson granted [JURIST report] the states' motion for summary judgment in January, finding that the minimum coverage mandate exceeded Congress' authority under the commerce clause. The health care reform law is the subject of numerous legal challenges and inconsistent rulings across the country. A Virginia appeals court is scheduled to hear challenges to two conflicting lower-court rulings in May—one upholding the legislation and the other invalidating part of it. In December, a judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the individual mandate provision is unconstitutional [JURIST report] but left the remainder of the law intact. Earlier that month, a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia dismissed [JURIST report] a lawsuit challenging a provision of the health care reform law. In October, a federal judge in Michigan ruled [JURIST report] that the law is constitutional under the Commerce Clause

 

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