ATLANTA (CBSMiami)- A federal appeals court panel on Friday struck down the requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul package that virtually all Americans must carry health insurance or face penalties. Florida had joined with a number of other states to have he whole plan tossed out.

The divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the so-called individual mandate, which is considered the centerpiece of the law, siding with 26 states that had sued to block the law. But the panel didn’t go as far as a lower court that had invalidated the entire overhaul as unconstitutional.

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“Today we have prevailed in preventing Congress from infringing on the individual liberty protected by the U.S. Constitution,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in a statement released Friday afternoon.

“The ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholds our position that the federal health care law exceeds Congress’ power.”

The Atlanta-based court is considered by many observers to be the most pivotal legal battleground yet because it reviewed a sweeping ruling by  Florida U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson.

Vinson’s ruling not only struck down a requirement that nearly all Americans carry health insurance, but he also threw out other provisions ranging from Medicare discounts for some seniors to a change that allows adult children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ coverage. Medicare is the government-funded program that provides health care coverage to the elderly.

The appeals court did not consider those issues.

US government attorneys will likely ask the full 11th Circuit to review the panel’s ruling. They also can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which many legal observers expect to have the final say on the issue.

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They will have a variety of appeals court decisions to examine. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati saw things differently, and upheld the government’s new requirement that most Americans buy health insurance.An appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, has heard similar legal constitutional challenges to the law.

Republicans want to overturn Obama’s health care reform, claiming that it is too costly at a time of growing federal and state budget deficits and that it imposes too many government controls on the industry.

No appeals court decision has gone that far.

Obama supporters say the mandate is a key component of the package intended to extend coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people.

The 11th Circuit decision, penned by Chief Judge Joel Dubina and Circuit Judge Frank Hull, found that “the individual mandate contained in the Act exceeds Congress’s enumerated commerce power.”

“What Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die,” the opinion said.

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Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus said in a lengthy dissent that the majority ignored the “undeniable fact that Congress’ commerce power has grown exponentially over the past two centuries, and is now generally accepted as having afforded Congress the authority to create rules regulating large areas of our national economy.”