When a federal judge rules a law unconstitutional, the government is supposed to stop implementing it, right? The Obama administration isn’t quite sure that’s how it works. Late last week, the Department of Justice filed a motion asking Judge Roger Vinson whether he really did mean for his December 31st ruling that Obamacare is unconstitutional to have immediate injunction-like effect. Here’s what the Judge himself said in that opinion:
Injunctive relief is an “extraordinary” and “drastic” remedy. It is even more so when the party to be enjoined is the federal government, for there is a long-standing presumption “that officials of the Executive Branch will adhere to the law as declared by the court. As a result, the declaratory judgment is the functional equivalent of an injunction.” [Internal citations omitted.]
Seems pretty clear, no? Nevertheless, the DOJ’s accompanying memorandum states:
[D]efendants do not interpret the Court’s order as requiring them to immediately cease operating programs, implementing Medicare reforms, collecting taxes, extending grants, providing tax credits, and enforcing duties created by the ACA with regard to the plaintiff states, National Federation of Independent Business (‘NFIB’) members, and individual plaintiffs pending appeal, and defendants are proceeding on that basis.
The Heritage Foundation’s Todd Gaziano comments:
The Administration’s memorandum filed with the district court is a study in creative writing for a broader political audience. In my humble experience, it is not the kind of legal argument any serious litigator would want to file in court, because it toys with Judge Vinson’s very kind way of putting his prior judgment and effectively taunts him that he couldn’t possibly have understood the enormity of what he was doing or meant that his judgment would be given effect anytime soon. The Memorandum in support of the motion is couched in very polite language (for a more general audience), but its meaning is startling for those who understand that the Rule of Law requires a losing party to abide by a court’s ruling pending appeal unless it actually seeks and obtains a stay of the mandate. [“The President Thumbs His Nose at Judge Vinson’s Obamacare Ruling: DOJ Seems to Concede It Can’t Win in Court,” The Foundry, February 18, 2011.]