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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders May 18, 2012

In attack on Alan Grayson, Chamber says Florida judge ruled "Obamacare unconstitutional"

Remember that time when former Florida congressman Alan Grayson quipped on the House floor that the Republican health care plan plan was "don’t get sick" and, if you do, "die quickly"?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sure does.

The business lobbying group is using Grayson’s words against him in an attack ad. The commercial is part of a broader Chamber campaign targeting Democrats over their support of "Obamacare," including Florida Sen. Bill Nelson. (Read our fact-checks of the Nelson ad here and here).

This commercial compares Grayson to a literal broken record (remember records?) entitled Reckless, featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The ad repeats his explosive lines from floor debate.

Narrator: "Reckless politicians gave us Obamacare. Alan Grayson was one of Obamacare’s biggest cheerleaders. He’d say anything."

Grayson: "Die quickly. The Republicans want you to die quickly."

Narrator: "Now we learn Obamacare could cause 20 million people to lose their current coverage."

Another record appears with Grayson’s face on it, labeled "Obamacare Unconstitutional."

Narrator: "And a Florida judge ruled parts of Obamacare unconstitutional. Will Alan Grayson change his tune on Obamacare, or be the same broken record?"

PolitiFact Florida already fact-checked the chamber’s claim about 20 million people losing their current coverage in our review of the Nelson ad. We rated it a Pants on Fire, because it cherry-picks a worst-case-scenario statistic and strongly suggests seniors would lose Medicare coverage.

Here, we’re checking the ad’s other claim that "a Florida judge ruled parts of Obamacare unconstitutional." The Chamber includes this claim in another ad against Democrat Lois Frankel, running in Florida’s 22nd District.

Grayson is running in Florida's new District 9 seat, which includes part of Orlando and parts of the district he lost in 2010 to U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster. At this time, Grayson is the only Democrat in the race. 

From this moment on

Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law May 23, 2010. It’s been a long and winding legal path ever since.

At issue, for most plaintiffs, is the individual mandate, which requires all citizens to buy health insurance and takes effect in 2014.

The ACA Litigation Blog, launched by Santa Clara University law professor Brad Joondeph, keeps a spreadsheet of all lawsuits against the reforms on its website. By its count, 31 parties have filed lawsuits against the law, 12 of which have been dropped. Eight have reached the Supreme Court.

On the same day Obama signed the law, then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 states challenging the law. (Ultimately, 26 governors and attorneys general joined the suit.)

Two months later, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sued the government over the law’s implementation. At the end of 2010, a Virginia district judge appointed by Ronald Reagan ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional.

Florida re-entered the picture on Jan. 31, 2011. Pensacola-based U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson went further than the Virginia judge, declaring in Florida v. HHS that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and "inextricably bound" to the rest of the law -- meaning the whole thing needed to be tossed out because of that faulty provision.

"The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker," Vinson wrote in his opinion.

Vinson’s decision on the individual mandate was upheld by a three-person panel at the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Aug. 12, 2011, though they reversed his recommendation to throw out the law. The case then moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Then a district judge in Pennsylvania ruled against the mandate on Sept. 13, 2011, but said the rest of the law could stand.

This brings us to the first misleading aspect of the claim. The tone and visuals of the commercial may lead viewers to think that because a Florida judge ruled it unconstitutional, the fate of Obamacare has been decided. 

What the commercial doesn’t mention is that the Supreme Court has the final say.

The court heard three days of oral arguments in March and could release a verdict by the end of June.

Mandate upheld elsewhere

Judicial decisions on various challenges have not all been negative on the individual mandate.

Three federal district judges -- all appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton -- have upheld the mandate since 2010. A judge in Detroit did so in an Oct. 7, 2010, decision. The next month, a federal judge in Virginia followed suit over a challenge from Liberty University. And on Feb. 22, 2012, a district judge in Washington also deemed the individual mandate constitutional.

And even though the U.S. Appeals panel in Atlanta isn’t keen on the insurance requirement, its counterpart in Cincinnati went the other way.

A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel, by 2-to-1 approval, declared the provision a "valid exercise of legislative power by Congress under the Commerce clause" on June 29, 2011. That was consistent with a lower court’s decision on a challenge by the conservative Thomas More Law Center.

Fighting back

Grayson pushed back against the Chamber ad in a May 17, 2012, Orlando Sentinel column. He referenced a D.C. newspaper report saying Republicans have no plan to present a health care alternative this year.

"Which means that after almost four years of debate, the national Republican health care plan still is this: Don't get sick," he said, sticking by his old catchphrase.

He turned the commercial of "brazen lies" into a fundraising appeal to supporters, asking them to contribute to his "Fight Back" Fund.

Our ruling

The U.S. Chamber's ad says, "A Florida judge ruled parts of Obamacare unconstitutional." It’s true that a Florida judge ruled parts of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. But the chamber fails to acknowledge that other judges have upheld it, and that the Supreme Court will have the final say this summer.

Their statement is accurate but needs additional clarification. We rule it Mostly True.

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In attack on Alan Grayson, Chamber says Florida judge ruled "Obamacare unconstitutional"

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