Injunction confusion

INJUNCTION CONFUSION…. Court rulings are supposed to help bring clarity to a dispute, but they occasionally fall far short. In going after the Affordable Care Act yesterday, for example, Judge Roger Vinson not only offered strange rationales, he also left nearly everyone confused as to the state of the law.

The judge declined to immediately enjoin, or suspend, the law pending appeals, a process that could last two years. But he wrote that the federal government should adhere to his declaratory judgment as the functional equivalent of an injunction. That left confusion about how the ruling might be interpreted in the 26 states that are parties to the legal challenge.

The insurance mandate does not take effect until 2014. But many new regulations are already operating, like requirements that insurers cover children with pre-existing health conditions and eliminate lifetime caps on benefits. States are also preparing for a major expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the introduction of health insurance exchanges in 2014.

David B. Rivkin Jr., a lawyer for the states, said the ruling relieved the plaintiff states of any obligation to comply with the health law. “With regard to all parties to this lawsuit, the statute is dead,” Mr. Rivkin said.

But White House officials declared that the opinion should not deter the continuing rollout of the law. “Implementation would continue apace,” a senior administration official said. “This is not the last word by any means.”

If Rivkin is right, effective today, half the country is in pretty big trouble — small business taxes have gone up this morning, seniors who stop by the drug store today should pay more for medication, children with preexisting conditions will face discrimination, young adults have just been dropped without warning from their family health plans, etc. For Republicans and this Republican judge, this is the outcome effective immediately in the 26 states that participated in this lawsuit. Indeed, as far as conservatives are concerned, the notion of all of these families losing their benefits is cause for celebration.

No, I can’t relate to conservative values, either.

And at the exact same time, many others have read the identical ruling and are working under the assumption that the right’s interpretation is wrong, and that the same legal protections that existed before the ruling are still in effect now. Vinson could have issued an injunction stopping implementation, but he didn’t.

So much for legal clarity from the odd, activist Republican judge.

Jonathan Cohn spoke to an unnamed “learned court observer” about the legal state of play, and he/she explained, “On the injunction question, it’s complicated, but it’s also kind of stupid, because in the end of course the government is going to be able to continue implementing the law.”

Apparently, Vinson figures the administration will simply stop implementing the Affordable Care Act, now that he’s graciously explained the law to everyone. The Justice Department doesn’t necessarily have to seek a stay from the appeals court, but probably will anyway, given the ambiguities.