Florida Judge Issues Stay Of Own Ruling Finding Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional

Judge Roger Vinson stayed his own ruling in the Florida ObamaCare lawsuit today and acted to speed up the appellate process, but not by much.

In response to a Dept of Justice Motion to Clarify, Federal Judge Roger Vinson has issued an Order staying the effect of his own ruling finding the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional pending an immediate appeal by the United States:

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Thursday that implementation of the health law can proceed — but he gave the Obama administration just seven days to file an appeal.

Vinson issued a stay of his own Jan. 31 ruling that declared the entire health care reform law unconstitutional. He chastised the government for not interpreting that ruling as an immediate injunction to stop implementing the new law.

But in a twist, he said he interpreted the Justice Department’s request for clarity as a motion to stay, which he granted.

“Because the defendants have stated that they intend to file a subsequent motion to stay if I were to ‘clarify’ that I had intended my declaratory judgment to have immediate injunction-like effect (which I just did), I will save time in this time-is-of-the-essence case by treating the motion to clarify as one requesting a stay as well,” Vinson said.

Vinson criticized the Justice Department for not following normal procedure and requesting a stay.

“It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the Act, and only then file a belated motion to ‘clarify,'” Vinson wrote.

Vinson is trying to push the government into quickly resolving the case, requiring them to file an expedited appeal to the 11th Circuit or Supreme Court. In his ruling, Vinson repeated what he has said previously — that “the citizens of this country have an interest in having this case resolved as soon as practically possible.”

“That was nearly eleven months ago,” he wrote. “In the time since, the battle lines have been drawn, the relevant case law marshaled, and the legal arguments refined. Almost everyone agrees that the constitutionality of the Act is an issue that will ultimately have to be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is very important to everyone in this country that this case move forward.”

Vinson’s actions mean the legal cloud over nationwide efforts to implement the law’s varied and complex requirements — from the establishment of state health exchanges to plans for Medicaid expansion and a new wave of consumer protections in the insurance market — is likely to remain for a while.

As it stands, the Government only has until the end of the month to note their appeal of Judge Vinson’s ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals anyway, so the effect of Vinson’s Order on the timetable of events here is likely to be rather minimal. Additionally, notwithstanding Vinson’s language in the Order it’s fairly clear that he recognizes the inevitable here, which is that the Court of Appeals will stay the effect of his ruling pending a final resolution on appeal. Some will look at the language of Vinson’s ruling and read implications for the appeal into it, but I’ll say from my own experience that you simply can’t do that Appellate Court judges have their own mindset, at the Federal and State levels, and often don’t think too much of trial court judges who try to overstep their bounds. I thought at the time of his ruling that Vinson’s failure to apply the traditional test for an injunction to the case before him was unusual and to simply assume that his ruling meant that law was null and void to be rather unusual for a trial court judge, I suspect more than a few judges on the 11th Circuit would agree with that.

But, we shall see about that, because it’s on to the Eleventh Circuit.

Florida et al v HHS 3/3/2011 Order

FILED UNDER: Healthcare Policy, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. sam says:

    “Vinson’s failure to apply the traditional test for an injunction to the case before him was unusual and to simply assume that his ruling meant that law was null and void to be rather unusual for a trial court judge. I suspect more than a few judges on the 11th Circuit would agree with that.”

    And we haven’t even got to the political-manifesto-as-legal-opinion thing.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    I thought at the time of his ruling that Vinson’s failure to apply the traditional test for an injunction to the case before him was unusual and to simply assume that his ruling meant that law was null and void to be rather unusual for a trial court judge…

    Isn’t that why we have federal judges?

  3. mantis says:

    A remedial course on the US judiciary is in order for McGuire.

  4. Dodd says:

    “Vinson’s failure to apply the traditional test for an injunction to the case before him was unusual and to simply assume that his ruling meant that law was null and void to be rather unusual for a trial court judge. I suspect more than a few judges on the 11th Circuit would agree with that.”

    Judge Vinson addressed that issue with a stern, devastating rebuke:

    I did not undertake this four-factor analysis for a simple reason: it was not necessary. Even though the defendants had technically disputed that the plaintiffs could satisfy those four factors, the defendants had acknowledged in their summary judgment opposition brief that, if I were to find for the plaintiffs, separate injunctive relief would be superfluous and unnecessary. The defendants expressly assured the court that, in light of the “long-standing presumption that a declaratory judgment provides adequate relief as against an executive officer, as it will not be presumed that that officer will ignore the judgment of the Court,” any declaratory judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor “would [ ] be adequate to vindicate [the plaintiffs’] claims.” Defendants’ Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 137), at 43. Consequently, there was no need to discuss and apply the four-factor test to determine if injunctive relief was appropriate because the defendants had confirmed that they would “not . . . ignore the judgment of the Court” and that my “declaratory judgment would [ ] be adequate.” In other words, the defendants are now claiming that it is somehow confusing that I bypassed the four-factor test and applied the “long-standing presumption” that they themselves had identified and specifically insisted that they would honor. [Emphasis added.]

    That’ll leave a mark. This will leave a scar:

    The defendants’ selective quoting from those cases — to suggest that the federal government may simply ignore a declaratory judgment by a district court until the appeals process has fully run its course — borders on misrepresentation.

  5. sam says:


    “Judge Vinson addressed that issue with a stern, devastating rebuke:”

    Here’s Orin Kerr’s take:

    When Judge Vinson entered his ruling holding that the mandate was unconstitutional, it left the federal government in a somewhat uncertain position. Given that the mandate was subject to inconsistent decisions by district courts, and Judge Vinson declined to enter an injunction, it wasn’t clear what DOJ was supposed to do while the inevitable appeals were pending. If Judge Vinson had enjoined the Act, DOJ would have obtained a stay from the Court of Appeals while the appellate process was pending. But without an injunction, it wasn’t entirely clear if there was an actual order that needed to be stayed. In response to the uncertainty, DOJ filed a motion seeking clarification of Judge Vinson’s initial order so DOJ could know what to do next.

    Judge Vinson filed a 20-page opinion today responding to the motion seeking clarification, and I find it pretty remarkable. I think it’s fair to say that Judge Vinson was not happy with DOJ. First, much of the new opinion is written as a rather defensive summary of his earlier opinion and, at times, a response to critics. Vinson then decided on his own to treat the motion for clarification as a motion for a stay, and then he granted his motion for a stay with an important condition: DOJ must file its appeal in seven days, and DOJ must then request an expedited appeal in the circuit court. This seems pretty unusual to me, given that DOJ wasn’t even seeking a stay from Judge Vinson. The pace of appellate litigation is normally up to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the litigants, and the Court of Appeals judges — not a district court judge. [Judge Vinson’s New Order in the Mandate Litigation]

  6. Dodd says:

    I must respectfully disagree with Prof. Kerr. There’s nothing “defensive” about Vinson’s Order from yesterday. As judgespeak goes, it’s the equivalent of being spanked with a wooden spoon. And, having read all of it, Vinson supported every aspect of it with caselaw, including the condition he placed on his stay.

  7. sam says:

    Hold that thought, Dodd. I’m looking forward to the appellate review of Vinson’s decision. And Judge Hudson’s Virginia decision — I think there’s a good chance that it will be thrown out. See, Jurisdictional defect in the PPACA litigation? I asked Kevin Walsh via email if the Judge Vinson’s decision suffered from the same infirmities as Judge Hudson’s. He replied:

    The short answer is that Judge Vinson’s analysis of the justiciability of Idaho and Utah’s challenge to the individual mandate is wrong for the reasons I set out in my essay. But an analysis of what effect that error has is more involved, because the states do have standing to challenge other parts of the law (and they raised such challenges), and because the private plaintiffs’ standing is on firmer ground as well. Whereas the defects of the Virginia case straightforwardly require dismissal in that case, there are many other factors that must be considered in determining the consequences of these defects for Florida v. HHS.

    If you haven’t read Prof. Walsh’s paper, you can get it here.

  8. Dodd says:

    On its face, he makes a persuasive argument with respect to Virginia. Not having explored the underlying doctrines myself, I can’t address if his argument is as persuasive as it seems.

    But he’s certainly correct that the Florida ruling is not subject to the same straightforward analysis. That case avoided the (apparent) defect in Virginia’s suit by including individual plaintiffs (which, if I read him right, Virginia could also have done) who, as he noted in his email to you, have justiciable claims even under his analysis, and by including other challenges he acknowledges as valid.

    Subject matter jurisdiction does not need to be raised to be preserved. Any court can raise it sua sponte (and indeed, is obligated to if it sees it as preventing justiciability). As such, the Court of Appeals can throw out Virginia’s suit without it impairing any other appeals if it agrees with Prof. Walsh’s analysis.

    I can’t agree that the argument was avoided for political reasons, though. SMJ is a powerful weapon in litigation. One doesn’t cast it aside for fear that “winning on a technicality” will be “perceived” badly. A win is a win. More likely, the argument was either not identified at all or was deemed unlikely to succeed (an issue I can’t speak to without delving into the caselaw myself, which I will try to make time to do sometime soon now that my curiosity is piqued).