Obama administration to appeal ruling striking down healthcare law

WASHINGTON (RNN) - The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday it would appeal a Virginia judge's ruling that declared a key portion of the healthcare law unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ruled Monday that the Minimal Essential Coverage provision is unconstitutional because it forces an individual to purchase health insurance or face a penalty.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the Obama administration would not push for an expedited appeal process, which would push the case past a Circuit Court appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Virginia's suit is based on a state statute that is not applicable nationwide, and the department believes this case should follow the ordinary course of allowing the courts of appeal to hear it first so the issues and arguments can be fully developed before the Supreme Court decides whether to consider it," Schmaler said in a statement.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had urged the Department of Justice to fast-track the case, citing the expense of implementing the law that Virginia and other states would face.

In his ruling, Hudson said Congress cannot force an individual to engage in a private commercial transaction. The law is scheduled to take effect in 2014.

[Click here to read the ruling (PDF)]

According to the Obama administration's own arguments in the case, the mandatory purchase provision is the bedrock of the healthcare law.

Without that provision, "the financial foundation supporting the health care system will fail," according to Hudson's ruling.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who filed the lawsuit, wrote on his website that Hudson's ruling will be appealed by the Obama administration.

"This won't be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court," he said. "But today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution."

Hudson is the first judge to strike down the law, which had been upheld by two others in Virginia and Michigan.

In a press conference Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that favorable rulings by two out of three judges underscores the importance of the healthcare law. He also cited the provision as a "basis and foundation" for doing away with discrimination by heath insurance companies.

Without the healthcare law, many Americans with pre-existing conditions cannot be covered by health insurance.

On Monday, House Republican leader John Boehner, R-OH, questioned the government's ability to force Americans to purchase health insurance and to impose penalties if they don't.

He said via Twitter that Republicans would move immediately to repeal the entire healthcare law in January.

"Today's decision is an encouraging sign for families and small business owners who have revolted against President Obama's job-killing health care law and called for its repeal," Boehner said in a news release.

Twenty-five similar lawsuits are pending across the country, including one in Florida in which 20 states are a joint party. Unless Congress intervenes and repeals the law, it will continue to move through the courts. Its implementation will go forward as planned until all legal issues are resolved.

Gibbs said the Department of Justice is weighing how to appeal this particular case.

"The bill will continue to have its day in court," Gibbs said, expressing his confidence that the constitutionality of the law would be upheld.

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