February 1st, 2011
06:08 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House’s top lawyer appears to be taking the latest legal setback for health care reform in stride. Responding to Monday's ruling by a federal judge in Florida, White House Counsel Robert Bauer said it was "part of a process" that will not result in the ultimate nullification of President Obama's signature domestic achievement.
"I would have decided it differently," Bauer said Tuesday at a forum to discuss the implication of pending nominations to the federal judiciary. Bauer said the decision added "another voice" to the constitutional objections to the law, but he believed the issue would eventually be resolved in the administration's favor.U.S. District Judge Robert Vinson declared unconstitutional the so-called "individual mandate" that requires most Americans to carry some form of health insurance by 2014 or face financial penalties. Vinson also took issue with the section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that withholds Medicare funds from states that refuse to participate. In his ruling, Vinson said the unconstitutionality of the two provisions voided the entire law. The lawsuit was brought by Florida and 25 other states.
"This is one district court," Bauer said noting that while a separate ruling in eastern Virginia also declared the "individual mandate" as unconstitutional, two federal judges, one in western Virginia, and one in Michigan, had ruled the provision constitutional. The issue is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court in the coming months.
Bauer also took issue with the Senate's "perilously low" confirmation rate for the administration's nominees to the federal bench. Of the 49 nominees currently awaiting confirmation, more than half of them are considered "judicial emergencies", or those involving courts where the cases currently filed exceed the capacity to hear them.
Citing the administration's past efforts to reach out to individual members of the Senate in an effort to discuss the objections over certain nominees, Bauer said it was incumbent on both parties to address the "institutional" and "structural" aspects in the confirmation process that allow a single Senator to keep a nomination from moving forward to a full vote.
Over the past year, President Obama has re-nominated a number of individuals who have failed to receive a full vote in the Senate. Some of them, like Goodwin Liu, a law professor at Berkeley who is seen as a possible future Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, have provoked strong opposition by Republican lawmakers.
Bauer called for a bi-partisan process that would allow a vote for every judicial nominee after a "full and fair deliberation" in the Senate. A case in which a vote for a nominee is denied should be "rare," and "truly exceptional in character," he said.
Bauer declined to comment on when or if any of the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility would eventually be tried in civilian courts.
The comments came as Bauer delivered the keynote address to a meeting hosted by the progressive American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.