PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge who declared President Obama's health care overhaul unconstitutional ruled Thursday that states must continue implementing it while the case makes its way through the courts.
U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson was responding to a request from Obama administration attorneys who sought to ensure Florida and 25 other states follow the law until their challenge to it is resolved.
Three other federal judges have upheld the law, and a fourth in Virginia has ruled against it, but that ruling also is on hold until appeals are heard. The issue is widely expected to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Thursday's ruling, Judge Vinson admonished the administration for being slow to appeal and for asking him to clarify his ruling instead of filing a motion to put it on hold. Still, he said, it is in the nation's best interest for states to continue following the law for now.
"It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty" to halt implementation, he wrote.
However, if the federal government does not appeal within seven days, the states can consider the law invalid, he wrote.
Judge Vinson ruled the massive overhaul unconstitutional in January, saying the federal government had overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce by requiring nearly all Americans to carry health insurance.
He said lawmakers do not have the power to penalize citizens for not doing something.
But he wrote in Thursday's ruling that other judges probably will disagree with him.
"It is likely that the Court of Appeals will also reach divergent results and that, as most court-watchers predict, the Supreme Court may eventually be split on this issue as well," he wrote.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement that the government promptly would appeal Judge Vinson's ruling and seek an expedited review.
"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.
Other states that joined Florida in filing the lawsuit were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.