Entire health reform law deemed unconstitutional

In the most sweeping rejection of the Affordable Care Act so far, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the entire healthcare overhaul law should be ditched, comparing it "to a finely crafted watch" in which one essential piece is defective "and must be removed."

In a surprise move, Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida ruled that the mandate that everyone must carry insurance beginning in 2014 or face a fine is unconstitutional, the Washington Post reports.

While it's no big surprise that he declared the individual mandate unconstitutional, many thought he would allow the rest of the law to stand, just as a federal judge in Virginia did last December. Instead, he declared the whole law unconstitutional, which raised eyebrows.

In his decision, Vinson acknowledges something called severability, which means that even when a judge finds part of a law unconstitutional, they're supposed to preserve as much of the rest of the law as they can, NPR reports. But he takes an unusual legal stand  concluding "that the individual mandate and the remaining provisions are all inextricably bound together in purpose and must stand or fall as a single unit. The individual mandate cannot be severed."

He compared the law to a defectively designed watch, that "needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker."

In a White House blog, Deputy Senior Advisor Stephanie Cutter wrote: "We don't believe this kind of judicial activism will be upheld and we are confident that the Affordable Care Act will ultimately be declared constitutional by the courts."

She characterized the ruling as "well out of the mainstream of judicial opinion," noting that 12 federal judges have dismissed challenges to the law's constitutionality and two--in Michigan and Virginia--have upheld the law.

The Department of Justice intends to appeal the ruling.

David Engstrom, a Stanford Law School faculty member, told the Post that the opinion does not prevent the law from moving forward. "The issue that the court has ruled on has been specifically contradicted by two other district courts," he said. "So, the idea that the Obama administration should somehow stand down from implementing the act, based on a fourth district court, doesn't have any basis in law."

The decision was part of a case filed by 25 Republican attorneys general and governors who wanted to strike down the ACA. The issue will probably end up in front of the Supreme Court after winding its way through appeals courts.

To learn more:
- read the judge's decision
- here's the one-page summary judgment
- read the DOJ statement
- here's the White House statement
- read the NPR News article
- read the Washington Post article
- here's the Politico article