A federal judge in Virginia dealt the first major legal blow against the Obama administration's health care reform law on Monday, setting the stage for a final showdown over mandatory health insurance in the Supreme Court.
District Judge Henry Hudson issued a 42-page ruling that declared the law's individual mandate clause that would require Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty to be unconstitutional.
Hudson decided not to issue an injunction to block implementation of health care reform because the clause in question will not go into effect until 2013, and the federal government should honor his judgment alone until the decision is appealed.
"And the final word will undoubtedly rest in a higher court," Hudson wrote, indicating that the Supreme Court will have the final say on the issue.
The Obama administration has indicated that the ruling will not hamper the implementation of other aspects of health care reform.
The case is the most prominent among a number of legal challenges filed in several states since federal health care reform passed in March. Oral arguments on the constitutionality of health care reform will be heard in Florida on Thursday as the result of lawsuits filed by 20 states against the federal government.
The ruling is a big victory for conservatives and Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli, who was able to make a case against the federal government after the Virginia legislature passed a new law this year making it illegal to make health insurance mandatory for Virginians.
"It is unconstitutional because the federal government is claiming that the source of its power for imposing the mandate is the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government the power to 'regulate commerce among the several states...,'" Cucinelli explains in his media blog. "We argue that if someone isn't buying insurance, then - by definition - he is not participating in commerce."