The ruling by a federal judge in Virginia striking down one part of the new health care law may be less significant in the grand scheme of things than some opponents of the law might hope. 


U.S. district judge Henry E. Hudson said that the Affordable Health Care Act’s requirement that individuals purchase health care insurance was unconstitutional. However, he stopped short of granting an injunction, which would have prevented the government from moving forward with implementing the law.


In an op-ed that appeared in the Dec. 14 Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius indicated that the administration would appeal.


Some Democratic lawmakers were quick to criticize the ruling, while downplaying its significance. “There have been 20 cases filed challenging health reform,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a statement. Twelve of those cases have been dismissed outright.


The two that have come to judgment in the past two months—in the Western District of Virginia and the Eastern district of Michigan—have upheld the law. “We always knew that there was a chance that one or two judges would buck the clear legal consensus that the law is constitutional,” Waxman said.


The White House also downplayed the impact of the ruling. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “Challenges like this are nothing new in terms of laws that have come before the courts in the past in which our position has prevailed. We’re confident that it is constitutional,” he said.


Most observers agree that the cases will likely make their way to the Supreme Court. “This is a constitutional question that’s going to be decided by the Supreme Court,” says Jeff Shoaf, senior executive director of government affairs at the Associated General Contractors of America.


Meanwhile, efforts are underway among some Republicans to attempt to repeal parts or all of the law during the next session of Congress. Whether there will be support for such an effort remains to be seen.


Groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors and AGC remain opposed to the law. “Nothing’s changed that would make us support the law…We would support repeal,” AGC’s Shoaf says.