The clock is ticking on the Obama administration’s plans to implement Obamacare.
That was the bottom-line result following a federal judge’s ruling Thursday giving the administration just seven days to file an expedited appeal either to the U.S. Supreme Court or the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
If the administration misses that deadline, it could face an injunction that would bring its implementation of Obamacare to a screeching halt in 26 states.
Judge Roger Vinson’s 20-page ruling chastised the government for dragging its feet before seeking a stay, or temporary suspension, of his January ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Vinson previously ruled that requiring individuals to make a federally mandated purchase — buying a healthcare plan — exceeds the federal government’s constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.
Vinson said he had expected the government to ask for a stay of his ruling.
“It was not expected,” he wrote in his opinion Thursday, “that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the Act, and only then file a belated motion to ‘clarify.’”
At least one party to the 26-state lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare was delighted with the judge’s ruling, which allows the government to continue implementing its healthcare reforms — but only for the seven days needed to file a request for an expedited appeal, either with the 11th Circuit Court or to the Supreme Court.
Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Small Business Legal Center, told Newsmax the judge’s opinion reflected exasperation that the Obama administration appeared to be dithering in its reaction to the January declaration that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.
In January, Vinson ruled the individual mandate is so integral to the act that without it the entire legislation becomes null and void. He reiterated that view in his ruling Thursday providing a seven-day stay, on the condition that the government file not just an appeal, but a request for expedited adjudication.
Said Harned: “I think more than anything, Judge Vinson was just like: ‘What part of no do you not understand? And if you have a problem with my answer, go to the 11th Circuit, and get out of my court.’ And I think that’s just fine.”
Georgetown law professor Randy E. Barnett told Newsmax that Vinson’s ruling, which on the one hand appeared to comply with an administration request while on the other hand giving it just seven days to ask a federal appeals court to fast-track the case, was a “strategic masterstroke.”
“He was able to defend his previous decision, which trial judges never really get a chance to do, and up the ante by both granting a stay and conditioning it on the government seeking an expedited review,” Barnett said.
One concern for the administration: The faster the review of Obamacare’s constitutionality, the greater the likelihood that the Supreme Court could issue a final ruling on it in 2012.
If the president’s primary legislative accomplishment were to be ruled unconstitutional before the 2012 election, it could prove a very costly setback for the administration politically.
Vinson’s order granting the seven-day stay was, if anything, even more incisive than his original ruling.
In response to the administration’s request for clarification, he wrote: “While I believe that my order was as clear and unambiguous as it could be, it is possible that the [government attorneys] may have perhaps been confused or misunderstood its import.”
The judge said the Justice Department attorneys had stated an injunction would not be necessary if Vinson ruled against them. Then, when he ruled against them and did not impose an injunction blocking the implementation of Obamacare, they continued to proceed with implementation.
Vinson stated that his goal is to expedite the case to the Supreme Court, which is where everyone agrees it will end up.
“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” he wrote. “And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my [prior] order and judgment and still the [government attorneys] have not filed their notice of appeal.”
“Now they’re back on the hook,” Barnett told Newsmax.
The next step for the administration is likely to be a request that the 11th Circuit review its appeal of Vinson’s ruling. At that time, legal experts say, it will also request that the appeals court issue a stay of the lower court’s ruling that ObamaCare is unconstitutional.
Harned said her members are delighted the case is being fast-tracked: “It’s as urgent as it can be. The sooner the better. Yesterday would have been great. And that’s why we’re happy with what happened today.
“The cost of healthcare has been our Number 1 issue for our members for the past two decades,” she told Newsmax. “Small businesses don’t know what their healthcare costs are going to be! They don’t know what their plans are going to cost. They don’t know how much an employee is going to cost them right now.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told ABC News: “We welcome the court's granting of a stay to allow the current programs and consumer protections, including tax credits to small business and millions of dollars in federal grants to help states with health care costs, to continue pending our appeal in the 11th Circuit.
“We strongly disagree with [Judge Vinson’s] underlying ruling in this case and continue to believe, as three federal courts have found, that this law is constitutional.
“There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing the Affordable Care Act and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal,” she said.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had a mixed reaction to the verdict. She said she is pleased that the judge reaffirmed his view that Obamacare is unconstitutional and must be thrown out in toto, but was disappointed that the stay was granted.
“We are satisfied that DOJ now has only seven days to file their appeal and seek expedited review or they will lose the stay,” she said in a statement.
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