What does it mean when a federal judge declares the whole of a major federal law "void"? The answer might seem obvious, but for the federal government, it's proven something of a head-scratcher. After Judge Roger Vinson voided the entirety of last year's health care overhaul legislation at the end of January, a few states halted work on the law, but the Obama administration continued on with implementation—and only recently requested a "clarification."
Today, Vinson released an updated ruling clarifying that when he said the law "must be declared void," he wasn't just pulling random words out of the dictionary. The original ruling, according to Vinson, was "expected to be treated as the 'practical' and 'functional equivalent of an injunction.'" In other words, it was a pretty straightforward order to cease, desist, and generally cut it out.
However, along with the clarification, he also issued a stay of his own ruling—essentially setting it aside, at least temporarily. So for the time being, implementation will go forward. But that stay came with a requirement: If the federal government wants to keep the stay, it must file an appeal of Vinson's original ruling within seven days. Otherwise, the stay is over. Why the insistence on a quick start to the appeals process? Cato's Michael Cannon explains:
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs, who include Florida and 25 other states, argued that the administration's "motion to clarify" was actually a veiled request to have Vinson stay (i.e., set aside) his original order blocking implementation. Vinson agreed, and therefore treated the Obama administration's "motion to clarify" as a motion to stay, which he granted. Vinson made clear, however, that if the administration fails to file a notice of appeal by March 10 or fails to seek an expedited appeal either with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, then his stay will lift and the administration will (once again) be barred from implementing or enforcing ObamaCare. In other words, Vinson prevented the Obama administration from treating his stay as an excuse to ignore his ruling while the further entrenching the law.
The administration has used the uncertainty surrounding the case to its advantage—continuing work on the law rather than seeking resolution. The thinking seems to be that the the more of the law that's implemented, the harder it is to undo. Vinson's ruling gives them the stay necessary to continue implementation, but says that they can't postpone resolution forever.