World and Nation

Judge who ruled against health care law allows it to proceed

A federal judge in Florida stayed his own ruling against the Obama health care law Thursday, allowing the act to be carried out as the case progresses through the courts of appeal and on to the Supreme Court.

The judge, making evident his irritation with the Obama administration, sought to speed the process by conditioning the stay on the Justice Department’s pursuit of an expedited appeal, which he ordered filed within seven days.

“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be,” wrote the judge, Roger Vinson of U.S. District Court in Pensacola. “And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my order and judgment and still the defendants have not filed their notice of appeal.”

The stay — essentially a suspension of the judge’s order pending appeals — settles the confusion that arose after Vinson ruled Jan. 31 that a central provision of the law was unconstitutional, and that the rest of the law — the Affordable Care Act — must fall with it.

Vinson had written that his ruling should be viewed as the “functional equivalent” of an injunction, which would typically stop the law in its tracks.

But the Obama administration did not immediately cease carrying out the law and, rather than seek a stay, asked the judge to clarify his ruling. States were unsure how to proceed, with some stopping all planning and others acting as if nothing had changed.

That began to change quickly with the issuance of Vinson’s stay Thursday.

Gov. Sean Parnell of Alaska, a Republican who announced last month that his state would not put in effect the health law in light of Vinson’s ruling, said Thursday that “our administration will treat the federal health care law as being in place.”

Vinson is one of two federal judges who have ruled that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce when it enacted a law that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance (starting in 2014). The Pensacola case was brought by elected officials from 26 states, all but one of them Republicans, and by the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small companies.

Only Vinson has declared the entire act void, including provisions that have already taken effect, like requirements that insurers cover children regardless of pre-existing conditions. Three other federal judges, meanwhile, have upheld the law.

Vinson wrote Thursday that his initial order “was as clear and unambiguous as it could be” and that the federal government had no right “to basically ignore” it.