Federal Judge Strikes Down Health Care Mandate

Opponents of the new health care law have been challenging a key provision that will require every American who can afford health insurance to buy it. On Monday those opponents found an ally in a federal judge.

The White House hailed it as a once-in-a-generation reform. CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford reports Monday a federal judge in Virginia, in a 42-page ruling, had a word for the landmark health care legislation: Unconstitutional.

Judge: Health Care Mandate Unconstitutional
CBSNews.com Special Report: Health Care Reform

Judge Henry Hudson said Congress went too far in requiring all Americans buy health insurance. The Constitution, he said, does not allow that kind of "unchecked expansion of congressional power."

The argument goes beyond health care, he said. "It's about an individual's right to choose to participate."

Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli says, "It's about liberty."

The state of Virginia challenged the law saying the federal government overstepped its power.

"Even the president and Congress must act within the boundaries set by the Constitution," says Cuccinelli.

The Administration says the provision is critical for the law's success: For health reform measures to work - like insurance for people with pre-existing conditions - all Americans must have health insurance. It predicted it will win on appeal.

"I think we have a good argument. I think the merits of the case are strong. I think its constitutionality will be upheld," says White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Other courts have turned aside challenges from private citizens but lawsuits by the states have been the most closely watched.

The biggest challenge yet to be decided is in federal court in Florida, where 20 states have sued the Administration over the same issue - whether the federal government went beyond its power in health care reform. Arguments in that case are set for Thursday.

Two other federal courts have upheld the law but these rulings really are just opening volleys. All of these cases are headed one place for the final showdown, the Supreme Court.
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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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