For the second time in as many months, a federal judge has declared all or part of so-called ObamaCare unconstitutional, which brings the official score on last year's health care law to a tie among lower courts. It's 2-2.

For the second time in as many months, a federal judge has declared all or part of so-called ObamaCare unconstitutional, which brings the official score on last year's health care law to a tie among lower courts. It's 2-2.


Unfortunately, it seems even our judiciary views the U.S. Constitution through a partisan lens anymore, with the two federal judges upholding the law appointed by a Democratic president, and the two finding fault owing their current jobs to GOP occupants of the White House.


This decision, from Federal Judge Roger Vinson - a Reagan appointee - in Pensacola, Fla., had a little different twist, as unlike the Virginia judge he invalidated the entire law, arguing that the offending "individual mandate" - requiring all to have health insurance, even if they don't want it - is so "inextricably bound" to the rest of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Congress and the president should start over. The judge did not, however, suspend the law pending appeals.


While he invoked much the same reasoning in striking it down - "It would be a radical departure from existing case law to hold that Congress can regulate inactivity under the Commerce Clause" because if it could, "it is not hyperbolizing to suggest that Congress could do almost anything it wanted" - Vinson did so "reluctantly."


"There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford. This is obviously a very difficult task," he wrote. Nonetheless, "Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution ... While the individual mandate was clearly 'necessary and essential' to the Act as drafted, it is not 'necessary and essential' to health care reform in general ... There are various other (Constitutional) ways to accomplish what Congress wanted to do."


In fact, the judge used the president's own words against him, noting that as Sen. Obama he "supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed ... stating that 'if a mandate was the solution, we can try to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house.'"


Vinson did not rule out a federal role in addressing health care, stressing that "at more than one-sixth of the national economy ... without doubt Congress has the power to reform and regulate this market."


Of course, there are vastly different perceptions of what this ruling means. One lawyer for the 26 states that brought this suit insisted that "the statute is dead" with the states under no obligation to implement it. The White House, meanwhile, indicated that "implementation would continue apace" and that "this is not the last word, by any means."


As a result we feel more strongly than ever that, even with the individual mandate not set to take effect until 2014, this needs to be fast-tracked to the U.S. Supreme Court for a definitive ruling, especially before private businesses and state governments spend vast amounts of money that they do not have implementing a law that may not survive. If that can't be done, well, nothing precludes Congress from acting preemptively and in bipartisan fashion to alter this law in ways that would pass constitutional muster.


Peoria, Ill., Journal Star