A federal judge in Virginia ruled a vital part of Obama-care (the individual health insurance mandate) unconstitutional on Monday, leading to health reporter Kevin Sack's big lead story on Tuesday, "Core Of Health Care Law Is Rejected by a U.S. Judge - Mandatory Insurance Is Called Unconstitutional."
Sack played up (in paragraph three and elsewhere) the fact that Judge Henry Hudson of the District Court in Richmond was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. Yet when a federal judge in late July blocked major parts of a tough Arizona immigration law touted by conservatives, the Times barely mentioned that the judge had been appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
A federal judge in Virginia ruled on Monday that the keystone provision in the Obama health care law is unconstitutional, becoming the first judge to invalidate any part of the sprawling act and ensuring that appellate courts will receive contradictory opinions from below.
The judge, Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court in Richmond, said the law's requirement that most Americans obtain insurance exceeded the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause.
Judge Hudson, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, declined the plaintiff's request to suspend the act's implementation pending appeal, meaning there should be no immediate effect on its rollout.
But the ruling seemed likely to create confusion among the public and to further destabilize political support for a law that is under fierce attack from Republicans in Congress and in many statehouses. Party leaders, including the incoming House speaker, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, quickly used the opinion to reiterate their call for repealing the law.
In a 42-page opinion, Judge Hudson wrote: "Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market."
Sack explained the significance of Hudson's ruling on the individual mandate:
The insurance mandate is central to the law's mission of covering more than 30 million people who are uninsured. Insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to pay for those with expensive conditions. But Judge Hudson ruled that many of the law's other provisions could be severed legally and would survive even if the mandate is invalidated.
Sack lingered on Hudson's appointment by a Republican, and saw judicial partisanship on only one side of the aisle.
The opinion by Judge Hudson, who has a long history in Republican politics in Northern Virginia, continued a partisan pattern in the health care cases. Thus far, judges appointed by Republican presidents have ruled consistently against the Obama administration, while Democratic appointees have found for it.
That has reinforced the notion - fueled by the White House - that the lawsuits are as much a political assault as a constitutional one. The Richmond case was filed by Virginia's attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican, and all but one of the 20 attorneys general and governors who filed a similar case in Pensacola, Fla., are Republicans.
In contrast, the fact that Judge Susan Bolton of the District Court in Phoenix, who struck down the Arizona law was a Clinton appointee, was only worth a single neutral sentence in paragraph seven of the paper's July 29, 2010 story by Randal Archibold.
Judge Bolton, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, did allow some, less debated provisions of the law to go into effect, including one that bans cities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.