By Mark Sherman and Erica Werner
President Barack Obama’s historic health care overhaul hit its first major legal roadblock Monday, thrown into doubt by a federal judge’s declaration that the heart of the sweeping legislation is unconstitutional. The decision handed Republican foes ammunition for their repeal effort next year as the law heads for almost certain eventual judgment by the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Republican appointee in Richmond, Va., ruled the law’s central requirement for nearly all Americans to carry insurance is unconstitutional, well beyond Congress’ power to mandate.
In Portales, Roosevelt General Hospital Administrator Larry Leaming said the closest parallel he could come to for the situation was the state government requiring liability insurance on cars.
Leaming said he had no comment on the health care overhaul.
“All I know is as a hospital, one of the things we have to do is cover our costs and take care of people, regardless of who comes through the door, and that often leads to higher health care costs,” he said.
By his calculations, Leaming said, if everyone who came to the hospital had insurance that at least covered the cost of their treatment, prices could be cut in half.
In Clovis, Curry County Republican Party Chairman Rube Render said he agreed with Hudson’s ruling.
“The idea that you are required to have medical insurance as a pretext for citizenship doesn’t set well with me,” he said.
Render said the Commerce Clause is overused to justify legislation it shouldn’t be used to justify.
“At some point, you have to stop the government from doing this, or there’s nothing they can’t make you do,” he said.
The ruling by marked the first successful court challenge to any portion of the new law, following two earlier rulings in its favor by Democratic-appointed judges.
Hudson’s ruling agrees with the argument of Virginia’s Republican attorney general — and many of the GOP lawmakers who will take control of the U.S. House in January. Hudson denied Virginia’s request to strike down the law in its entirety or block it from being implemented while his ruling is appealed by the Obama administration.
“An individual’s personal decision to purchase — or decline to purchase — health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause,” said Hudson, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush.
Nevertheless, the White House predicted it would prevail in the Supreme Court, although it may be a year or two before the health care law gets there. The next step for the Virginia lawsuit is the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, where Democratic-appointed judges hold a majority.
In an interview with television station WFLA in Tampa, Fla., on Monday, Obama emphasized that other judges had either found the law constitutional or dismissed lawsuits against it.
— Freedom New Mexico staff member Argen Duncan contributed to this report.