TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - The federal government, in an appeals brief filed Friday, called the judgment of a district court striking down President Barack Obama's federal health care reform "indefensible."
Acting Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal, on behalf of the government, said the judgment in favor of the 26 states, led by Florida, should be reversed.
The states are challenging a $695 annual penalty that will be imposed on individuals who do not purchase health insurance. Virginia, in a separate lawsuit, is defending a state law that says none of its residents can be penalized for not purchasing health insurance.
In January, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson found that Congress was unconstitutionally regulating economic inactivity and, because the mandate is too integral a part to be separated, he voided the entire legislation. He called it "a difficult decision to reach."
But the government argues in its 110-page brief that the district court "impermissibly departed" from the controlling doctrine in declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act invalid in its entirety and in awarding relief to parties without standing.
"The court itself recognized that its holding departs from the 'normal rule' that reviewing courts should ordinarily refrain from invalidating more than the unconstitutional part of a statute, and that it would have 'indeterminable implications,'" it wrote.
The government continued, "Uncertainty about Congress' intentions or an inclination to avoid close analysis of congressional intent does not license the wholesale invalidation of statutory provisions that 'stand alone and function independently.'"
In his ruling, Vinson wrote, "If Congress intends to implement health care reform -- and there would appear to be widespread agreement across the political spectrum that reform is needed -- it should do a comprehensive examination of the Act and make a legislative determination as to which of its hundreds of provisions and sections will work as intended without the individual mandate, and which will not."
"It is Congress that should consider and decide these quintessentially legislative questions, and not the courts."
The federal government contends the district court also disregarded a range of constraints on judicial review, such as the jurisdictional special review procedures that govern challenges to Medicare payment rates.
"Declaratory relief is 'equitable in nature,' and as the district court itself recognized, 'severability is a doctrine of judicial restraint,'" it wrote in its brief. "The court clearly erred in failing to exercise that restraint."
The court, the government said, then compounded these errors by "issuing a decree that applies to parties that failed to establish standing."
"Although the court purported to issue a judgment on behalf of all plaintiffs, the court explicitly declined to decide whether 24 of the 26 plaintiff states have standing to challenge the minimum coverage provision," it wrote.
"Moreover, the court's holding that two plaintiff states (Idaho and Utah) created their own standing to challenge the minimum coverage provision by enacting statutes that purport 'to protect their citizens from forced compliance with' federal law is clearly incorrect."
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments for June 8. Three randomly selected judges will hear the arguments, instead of the full roster of judges, as requested by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.