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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Facts fail to support Gov. Rick Scott's assertion that health care law isn't 'law of the land'

Gov. Rick Scott, who has led Florida's opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, has offered justification for refusing millions of dollars in grants to implement the health care law: "It's not the law of the land."

His declaration to the Palm Beach Post editorial board last month made us wonder: Is that true?

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, faces review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will stretch into next year.

Meanwhile, most states are working to implement the law, which takes effect in stages through January 2015.

But not Florida.

Florida refused grants to roll out the complex, 10-part statute when a Florida district court judge ruled it unconstitutional in January, even though the same judge said the law should continue to be implemented as long as his ruling was quickly appealed (which it was).

Legal views

While some judges have found the law to be unconstitutional, none has told states to stop implementing it.

Most of the more than 30 cases challenging the law have been dismissed, are awaiting arguments or — in four cases, according to the Justice Department — the law was upheld.

One subject of constitutional controversy is the law's requirement that people purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, known as the "individual mandate," which starts in 2014.

In the most significant challenge to the law, filed by Florida and joined by 25 other states, a district court judge found parts of the law unconstitutional, including the individual mandate. Judge Roger Vinson concluded the mandate couldn't be cut out of the legislation, and so struck down the whole law in January 2011. But he said states could continue implementing during the appeals process. The appeals court also found the individual mandate unconstitutional, but said that it could be struck down alone, preserving the rest of the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the case.

Meanwhile, Scott says the health care law is "not the law of the land."

That interpretation didn't sit well with Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law who has closely followed legal wrangling over the Affordable Care Act. Unless it's declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, it is "the law of the land," he told PolitiFact.

"This is the law — it's been passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president," Jost said.

So, what did the governor mean?

Spokesman Lane Wright said that beyond constitutional questions about the health care law, its most significant and expensive provisions don't take effect until 2014. Those include an expansion of Medicaid, the mandate that individuals purchase health insurance and a requirement for states to set up health insurance exchanges.

"None of those are in effect right now and, hence, are not the law of the land," Wright said.

Of course, many provisions of the law are in effect. There's a 50 percent discount for name-brand drugs in the Medicare "doughnut hole." Young adults can get insurance coverage through their parents. Small businesses qualify for tax credits to help them provide health benefits to workers. That's just a partial list of elements of the law that were in effect last year.

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor involved in the Supreme Court challenge, offered another interpretation of Scott's statement.

The governor took an oath to support the Constitution. So he might take the stance that the law, "though properly enacted, is contrary to the Constitution and therefore not a valid and binding law," Barnett said.

We also asked Laurence Tribe, a Harvard University law professor who has argued 35 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. (He also worked as an adviser to the Justice Department at the time the law passed.)

"Of course the Affordable Care Act is the 'law of the land,' " he said.

"It is completely settled that, although public officials and citizens generally are entitled to have and to express their own opinions that a duly enacted federal statute like the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution, unless and until the United States Supreme Court upholds that view, the rule of law requires that the Affordable Care Act be enforced unless repealed."

Our ruling

Scott said he's refusing federal grant money to implement the Affordable Care Act in Florida "because it's not the law of the land."

Some federal judges have found parts of the law to be unconstitutional and several more say it's fine. But more important, none has asked that the law not be implemented as they wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to offer the final word.

Scott can argue it's not a good idea, but it's incorrect for him to claim it's not the law. We rate his statement False.

The statement

The Affordable Care Act is "not the law of the land."

Gov. Rick Scott, Nov. 17 in a meeting with the Palm Beach Post editorial board

The ruling

Politifact ruling: False
Some federal judges have found parts of the law to be unconstitutional and several more say it's fine. But none have asked that the law not be implemented as they wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to offer the final word. We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact Florida: Facts fail to support Gov. Rick Scott's assertion that health care law isn't 'law of the land' 12/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, December 5, 2011 7:57am]
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