A Florida judge who ruled the federal health care law unconstitutional says states must implement the law as they wait for President Barack Obama's administration to appeal the case.
"It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty" to halt implementation, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson wrote in an opinion Thursday. "… The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be."
Several states, including Florida, had interpreted Vinson's January ruling to mean that implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should stop, so the federal government asked him to clarify.
Vinson chastised the Obama administration for delaying an appeal and set a seven-day deadline to file it. After that, his ruling could be viewed as an injunction, he wrote. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said it would file a notice of appeal promptly and seek an expedited ruling.
In Florida, which has already rejected two $1 million federal grants to help implement the law, the governor's office didn't budge, echoing Vinson in urging a fast-track appeal process to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We'll continue to review the full impact of the ruling," said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott.
Meanwhile, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi praised Vinson's original declaration that the law is unconstitutional.
"With this order from Judge Vinson, the 26 states and National Federation of Independent Business as plaintiffs are assured that there will be no more stalling from the federal government," she said.
Bondi's spokeswoman acknowledged Vinson's opinion meant implementation should continue.
"States must follow whatever requirements bind them within the health care act," Jennifer Davis said.
Jay Wolfson, a professor of health law at Stetson College of Law, said the Obama administration should have filed an appeal quickly, or at least asked for a stay of the judge's decision. Instead it waited weeks, then asked for a "clarification." The judge's frustration showed, Wolfson said.
"He didn't think it was courteous for them to have waited this long, and they say, oh, gee, could you clarify what you said?" Wolfson said. "… Under other circumstances, he might have held whoever the appellant would have been in contempt."
But it's in the administration's interest, he said, to draw out legal battles. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to undo the law's effects, and the more politically charged the atmosphere will be as the 2012 elections near. Many of the act's central provisions don't take effect until 2014, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.
Vinson ruled the massive overhaul unconstitutional in January, saying the federal government had overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce by requiring nearly all Americans to carry health insurance.
He said lawmakers do not have the power to penalize citizens for not doing something.
But he wrote in Thursday's ruling that other judges will probably disagree with him.
"It is likely that the Court of Appeals will also reach divergent results and that, as most court-watchers predict, the Supreme Court may eventually be split on this issue as well," he wrote.
Still, he said, it is in the nation's best interest for states to continue following the law for now.
The health care law faces legal challenges from at least 27 states. Florida is the lead plaintiff in the 11th Circuit case, joined by 25 states and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Other states that joined Florida in the lawsuit were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.