RICHMOND, Va. - A federal judge declared a key provision of the Obama administration's health care law unconstitutional Monday, siding with Virginia's attorney general in a dispute that both sides agree will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson is the first federal judge to strike down the law, which has been upheld by two other federal judges in Virginia and Michigan. Several other lawsuits have been dismissed and others are pending, including one filed by 20 other states in Florida.
Hudson rejected the government's argument that it has the power under the Constitution to require individuals to buy health insurance, a provision that was set to take effect in 2014.
"Of course, the same reasoning could apply to transportation, housing or nutritional decisions," Hudson wrote. "This broad definition of the economic activity subject to congressional regulation lacks logical limitation" and is unsupported by previous legal cases around the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
The lawsuit was filed by Virginia Republican Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli in defense of a new state law that prohibits the government from forcing state residents to buy health insurance. The key issue was his claim that the federal law's requirement that citizens buy health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.
"This won't be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution," Cuccinelli said in a statement after the ruling.
Hudson, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, sounded sympathetic to the state's case when he heard oral arguments in October, and the White House expected to lose this round.
Administration officials told reporters last week that a negative ruling would have virtually no impact on the law's implementation, noting that its two major provisions -- the coverage mandate and the creation of new insurance markets -- don't take effect until 2014.
The central issue in Virginia's lawsuit was whether the federal government has the power under the constitution to impose the insurance requirement. The Justice Department said the mandate is a proper exercise of the government's authority under the Commerce Clause.
Cuccinelli argued that while the government can regulate economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce, the decision not to buy insurance amounts to economic inactivity that is beyond the government's reach.
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna is one of 13 attorneys general who filed suit saying the mandate that all American obtain health insurance is unconstitutional.
McKenna released a statement on the Virginia court's decision, saying "Today's decision validates the constitutional question that 21 states have raised about the individual health insurance mandate. The Court found that Congress's attempt to force Americans to purchase private insurance 'exceeds the constitutional boundaries of congressional power.' As we've said throughout this case, health care reform is critically important but must be done in a way that respects the constitutional rights reserved by the people to the states and themselves. Today's decision affirms that point of view."