WASHINGTON (AP) — The scorecard on the legal fight over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is two judges in favor and one against.
But these are the early rounds in preliminary bouts. The one that really counts — a showdown at the Supreme Court — is at least a year away.
The health care law suffered its first major legal setback on Monday when a federal judge declared that the heart of the sweeping legislation is unconstitutional. The decision handed Republican foes ammunition for their repeal effort next year.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Republican appointee in Richmond, Va., marked the first successful court challenge to any portion of the new law, following two earlier rulings in its favor by Democratic-appointed judges. A number of other lawsuits were dismissed early on, without rulings on the substance of the law.
The law's central requirement for nearly all Americans to carry insurance is unconstitutional, well beyond Congress' power to mandate, Hudson ruled. That put him in the same camp as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — the Republican who filed the suit — and many of the GOP lawmakers who will take control of the U.S. House in January.
But Hudson denied Virginia's request to strike down the law in its entirety or block it from being implemented while his ruling is appealed by the Obama administration.
"An individual's personal decision to purchase — or decline to purchase — health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause," said Hudson, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush.
Another judge in Florida, a GOP appointee, has not ruled in another lawsuit — brought by20 states against the legislation — though he has signaled trouble for the administration. Arguments in that lawsuit, which also challenges whether the federal government can require states to expand their Medicaid programs, get under way Thursday in Florida.
Nevertheless, the White House predicted it would prevail in the Supreme Court.
"Keep in mind this is one ruling by one federal district court. We've already had two federal district courts that have ruled that this is definitely constitutional," Obama said Monday in an interview with television station WFLA in Tampa, Fla.