PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida judge said Tuesday he would hear arguments Dec. 16 on a lawsuit by 20 U.S. states seeking to block President Barack Obama's overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson, who is weighing a motion by the Justice Department to dismiss the lawsuit, ordered the follow-up hearing on the lawsuit led by Florida and involving 19 other states, which was originally filed in March by mostly Republican state attorneys general.
Vinson said he would formally rule on the dismissal motion by Oct. 14, but Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said the judge had already strongly indicated that the case would not be dismissed.
"The judge's apparent decision today means we will proceed," McCollum told reporters.
He was referring to what transpired during nearly two hours of arguments in Vinson's Pensacola courtroom Tuesday. During the hearing the judge said he would likely reject "at least one" of the government's motions for dismissal of the case but he did not elaborate.
An adverse ruling on the dismissal would be a setback for the White House, forcing it to defend its reforms in the middle of a tough campaign before the November midterm congressional elections.
The lawsuit claims the sweeping reform of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, pushed through by Obama's fellow Democrats in Congress after months of bitter partisan wrangling, violates state government rights in the Constitution and will force massive new spending on hard-pressed state governments.
The new healthcare law is a cornerstone of Obama's domestic agenda and aims to expand health insurance for millions more Americans while curbing costs. Obama officials have insisted it is constitutional and necessary to stem huge projected increases in healthcare expenses.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ian Gershengorn said nearly 100 years of court decisions back up the federal government's ability to undertake such a sweeping endeavor.
Ruling otherwise would throw out decades of case law and scores of decisions dealing with the interplay of state and federal government," he said.
"It would be a revolutionary decision," Gershengorn said in his arguments before Judge Vinson.
McCollum said the healthcare law represented "public policy at its worst."
"The federal healthcare act exceeds the powers granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution and tramples on our Founding Fathers' notion of federalism. It is an egregious violation of individual liberty and limited government," McCollum said in a statement.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the National Federation of Independent Business, which describes itself as the leading association representing small U.S. businesses in America.
Apart from Florida, states joining in the lawsuit include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Legal analysts say there is a good possibility the matter will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, but most say there is only a slim chance the states would prevail. (Editing by Eric Walsh)
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