DOJ Approves Liberty University’s Request To Revisit ACA Challenge
On Wednesday, the Obama administration told the Supreme Court that it does not object to allowing a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., to revive a lawsuit by Liberty University challenging the Affordable Care Act, the AP/U-T San Diego reports (Sherman, AP/U-T San Diego, 10/31).
Details, Background of Lawsuit
In the lawsuit, the Virginia-based conservative Christian university and five Virginia residents argued that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring the university and other similar entities and businesses that employ more than 50 people to provide health insurance coverage. Liberty argued that it potentially could face as much as $1.1 million in fines if the requirement is upheld.
The lawsuit also claimed that the individual mandate violates the school's and individuals' religious rights because some of the money collected through new insurance regulations would be used to cover abortion, which university opposes.
In November 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon dismissed the lawsuit. The school then filed an appeal in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court. In September 2011, judges at the 4th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 that the plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the individual mandate because the federal Anti-Injunction Act requires U.S. residents to wait to oppose a tax until after it is collected (California Healthline, 10/11/11).
The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the ACA's penalty for not purchasing health coverage is a tax, but it found that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply (California Healthline, 10/3). The justices then rejected all other pending appeals, including Liberty's (AP/U-T San Diego, 10/31).
Liberty Seeks To Invalidate Lower Court Ruling
In its request, Liberty asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the appellate court's ruling and argued that the high court wrongly dismissed the case based on its rulings on the ACA.
More specifically, Liberty asked the high court to reconsider its complaint about the constitutionality of the ACA's employer coverage requirements. In addition, the university said its case challenges the individual mandate on different grounds, arguing that it violates the university's religious freedom by indirectly contributing to abortion funding.
The Supreme Court in October asked the Department of Justice to respond within 30 days to Liberty's request (California Healthline, 10/3).
Justice Department Approves Request
In court papers, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote that Liberty's claims lack merit but that because the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals did not consider those merits, the government was open to further court proceedings to resolve them, Reuters reports.
"Under the circumstances of this case, (the government defendants) do not oppose further proceedings in the court of appeals to resolve them," Verrilli wrote.
Mathew Staver, a lawyer for Liberty, said, "We're very pleased with the Department of Justice's response, which we expected and which reflects the correct process that this case should follow" (Stempel, Reuters, 10/31).
According to AP/U-T San Diego, if the Supreme Court justices agree to reopen the case, they most likely would formally dismiss the appeals court's ruling and order it to re-examine Liberty's lawsuit. The appeals court would have the option of requesting new legal briefs from the defendants and plaintiffs to assess the effect of the Supreme Court ruling on Liberty's claims (AP/U-T San Diego, 10/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.