Constitutional Law

Does Judge Vinson's Ruling Require the Government to Stop Implementing ObamaCare?

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Ilya Shapiro and Michael F. Cannon of the Cato Institute argue that it does, and they make the case today in The Providence Journal:

First, federal courts do not issue advisory opinions. The parties to any lawsuit are bound by any resulting judgment.

At minimum, then, the government lacks authority to implement ObamaCare where the case was decided, in the Northern District of Florida, and the 26 state plaintiffs need take no action to do so. Likewise, members of the National Federation of Independent Business, another plaintiff in the case, may now be entitled to the same protection from Obamacare's requirements.

Moreover, it is not unreasonable to argue that Vinson's ruling applies to the nation as a whole. After all, this lawsuit facially attacked the law rather than just challenging its application to particular parties. This interpretation of Vinson's ruling would stop ObamaCare dead in its tracks.

Read the whole piece here. Last week Peter Suderman looked at whether ObamaCare is mostly dead, all dead, or not dead yet.

NEXT: Does Congress Have Anything Better to Do Than Complain About Big League Chewing?

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  1. Yes. Sebelius should be in shackles and drug to the clink led by her candaverous, distended jugulars ala A Man Called Horse.

    1. Re: Sovereing Inmunity,

      Sebelius should be in shackles

      Stop it! Stop it! You’re getting me started!

      Sebelius… in shackles… Hmmmm!

  2. Without a stay, I don’t see how the government can possibly continue to apply a law declared to be unconstitutional. It’s an impeachable offense, to boot.

    1. Um, well, the way they do it is by ignoring the court and continuing to implement the law. Unless someone actually takes some action that renders them unable to implement the law, there’s no reason they can’t.

  3. If the plaintiffs think that’s what the ruling says/means, they can file a motion for an injunction or contempt. Or the judge can enforce the ruling on his own.

    1. There’s no question at all that the parties to the suit can treat the law as unconstitutional. They’ve already won that point for now.

      Judges, of course, don’t enforce rulings. However, if people in the government act outside of the Constitution, they can be sued civilly and personally, and they can be impeached.

      1. Judges of course do enforce rulings. That’s what injunctions and contempt citations are all about.

        1. That’s not actual enforcement. And the judge has already flat out said that he doesn’t have to issue anything more to make the law unenforceable. It’s done.

          Yet another bad feature of this administration is its willingness to ignore the courts.

          1. That’s not actual enforcement? Huh?

            1. My point is that the judge doesn’t have the physical means to enforce an order.

              In this case, the judge said that the ruling was all he needed–no injunction or declaratory judgment was required.

              1. I would pay to watch the judge send the bailiff to arrest Obama.

                1. I would pay to watch the judge send the bailiff to arrest Obama.

                  No. Sebelius. Obama may be the President, but he needs flunkies to implement his scheme. Arrest a flunky for contempt, like Salazar, who IS in, by judicial ruling, contempt.

              2. Ok, so you mean that the judges don’t physically themselves take money from a person’s bank account or lock them up? I guess that’s true- but they can and do order court officers to do that and the court officers comply.

  4. I think the plaintiffs and the judge are probably unwilling to press their luck by seeking enforcement. Playing the long game, I can see how not inflaming the situation is probably the strategic move.

    That doesn’t detract, of course, from the fact that this administration is in flagrant disregard of the law.

    And, yes, the opinion applies everywhere that the defendant operates. If a private party is enjoined by a federal district court from doing X, it may not do X anywhere in the country, not merely in the court’s home district.

    As far as I know, this decision hasn’t been appealed. I wonder if the SolGen isn’t reluctant to take this up the chain as the test case that SCOTUS will decide. Failure to appeal within (I think) 30 days means this decision is final and unappealable. The implications of that, I couldn’t say.

    1. RC Dean, any conjecture on why the 26 states that are bringing suit about the mandate are not bringing suit against HHS for implementing a law that has been effectively voided?

      1. I assume they’ll throw this opinion into the mix of their own cases, but the more courts agree on the mandate’s unconstitutionality, the harder it will be for the law to remain standing.

        1. So far there have only been four rulings right? Two unconstitutional rulings decided by Republican-appointed judges and two constitutional rulings by Democrat-appointees.

          I don’t know what other cases are being presented to other courts to fit your scenario. Can you give some examples?

      2. I really think its politics. The states have a temporary victory, continued implementation of the law until SCOTUS rules doesn’t really burden them as states all that much.

        They don’t have much to gain from seeking specific enforcement of the opinion, and I suppose there could be some backlash in the media or possibly at the appellate level, so why push it?

        1. I understand the politics and media backlash and demagoguery, but the rule of law is being trampled and shat upon here in the name of expediency. It is a travesty of Jacksonian proportions.

    2. IIRC, the judge did not issue an injunction.

      1. He didn’t have to; Vinson voided the law, and his is the last ruling issued until another one rules.

        1. Yeah, that’s not how litigation works. An opinion isn’t self-executing. The judge has to issue an order or injunction that specifically says what the person must do/not do. Then, if he doesn’t, the other side gets to come back into court and tell the judge. At that point, he holds a hearing to see if it’s true, and he may issue a contempt citation.

          1. Vinson discusses this very issue in his opinion. An opinion voiding a law is self-executing, on the theory that the federal government will be obey the law and doesn’t have to be specifically ordered to. There’s SCOTUS precedent and everything that a separate order is unnecessary.

            1. Ok, I just read the passage. Apparently there is some case law that says a declaratory judgment (another form of relief) is equivalent to an injunction when against the federal government. I’m not familiar with that case law, and I’m guessing it comes with some serious caveats not mentioned since federal courts enjoin federal officials all the time.

              Assuming that the declaratory judgment that Judge Vinson issued (which I couldn’t find in my google searches, although the opinion says he was issuing one) is effectively an injunction, the plaintiffs have every right to try to enforce by motioning for contempt. Wonder why they aren’t doing that?

              1. Wonder why they aren’t doing that?

                Me, too, but I suspect they regard it, at this stage of implementation, as having no real upside, and potential downside.

                I’m guessing it comes with some serious caveats not mentioned since federal courts enjoin federal officials all the time.

                Those injunctions aren’t issued because a law was voided, but because the official’s actions were found to violate the law/Constitution. I know, a distinction only a lawyer could love.

                1. Although I understand the distinction you’re making (I’m a lawyer too), I don’t see how it makes a difference. First, Judge Vinson’s opinion doesn’t mention or even hint at that distinction. Second, why in a run of the mill APA case where the court found the government’s actions violate a statute, wouldn’t this same principle apply? That is, if the court found that, say, issuing a regulatory license violated NEPA, couldn’t the judge just issue a declatory judgment that the action violates NEPA. Since, according to Vinson’s opinion, declaratory judgment is equivalent to an injunction since the federal official is presumed to follow the law as declared by the court, the declatory judgment should be enough, right? But that’s never how it happens in NEPA cases- the Supreme Court just last year decided a case clarifying the injunction standard for NEPA and it makes no mention of this declaratory judgment rule. I’m skeptical.

          2. Quoting RC Dean from upthread:

            the opinion applies everywhere that the defendant operates. If a private party is enjoined by a federal district court from doing X, it may not do X anywhere in the country, not merely in the court’s home district.

  5. Ho ho, keep arguing, Cato dudes!

    Hmm hmm hmm hmmmm hmmmmm…..

    1. “It’s good to be the King”.

  6. Can the House pass a bill that prohibits HHS from spending another dime on implementation?

    1. It could. But it wouldn’t be a law unless it were also passed by the Senate and signed by Obama.

    2. Of course, but it would be unlikely to get through the Senate, and Obama would just veto it.

      1. If the House doesn’t appropriate money for ObamaCare in a spending bill, then the Senate refusal to pass the bill and/or Obama’s veto doesn’t magically create an appropriation.

        Although I saw somewhere that the Dems snuck some kind of greasy automatic appropriation into the original bill.

        1. Would this be the the bill that originated in the house, or the bill that the senate essentially rewrote and passed via reconciliation?

        2. All they need is HHS’s general appropriation. As long as the appropriation’s general language is broad enough to encompass Obamacare implementating, and it doesn’t specifically say it can’t be used for Obamacare implementation, then it can be. The appropriation doesn’t have to specifically say “for Obamacare implementation”

          1. I would suggest that it does specifically say that, as appropriations have a backdoor habit of becoming very fungible very quickly.

            1. I don’t understand

            2. I suspect it will have language like that in it, at least as it leaves the House. The fact that the law has been voided should make this more difficult to resist.

              What are they going to say, “No decent person would refuse to fund the implementation of a law that has been stricken from the books”?

  7. Make me!

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