Judge Allows Virginia’s Lawsuit Against Health Reform Law To Proceed
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson denied a motion submitted by the Obama administration to dismiss a Virginia lawsuit that claims the individual mandate in the federal health reform law is unconstitutional, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/2).
The suit now moves forward, and a hearing for the case has been scheduled for Oct. 18 (Lillis, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/2).
Background of Suit
The lawsuit -- filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) on March 23, just hours after the new reform law was enacted -- argued that Congress approved legislation exceeding its powers to regulate interstate commerce.
In addition, the complaint contended that the individual mandate, which will require nearly all U.S. residents to obtain health coverage or pay a penalty, oversteps federal powers under the Constitution's 10th Amendment.
In response, attorneys representing HHS argued that individuals, not the state, are affected by the individual mandate, negating the state's ability to sue over the issue. Furthermore, federal attorneys wrote that the overhaul does not cause injury to the state and will not take effect until 2014, which means the state cannot yet sue (California Healthline, 5/25).
Details of Judge's Decision
In a 32-page ruling, Hudson wrote that the case was "laden with public policy implications and has a distinctive political undercurrent," concluding that the court lacked jurisdiction over the issue.
According to the opinion, "While this case raises a host of complex constitutional issues, all seem to distill to the single question of whether or not Congress has the power to regulate -- and tax -- a citizen's decision not to participate in interstate commerce," he wrote, adding that the new reform law "literally forges new ground and extends Commerce Clause powers beyond its current high watermark, ... radically chang[ing] the landscape of health insurance coverage in America" (Schwartz, New York Times, 8/2).
Setback for Federal Officials
Although a case challenging the new reform law was expected to reach the Supreme Court, Hudson's ruling is a setback for federal officials (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/2).
Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University Law Center professor, said the decision "establishes the seriousness of the constitutional challenges to the individual mandate" (New York Times, 8/2).
A similar challenge filed by 20 states in Florida is still pending (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/2).
Although Hudson's ruling has no direct effect on the other suit, it could influence other judges. Barnett said that Hudson's ruling could prompt lower courts to "strike the law down" until challenges reach the Supreme Court (New York Times, 8/2).
Barnett also said that the ruling "negates the 'whistling past the graveyard' argument that supporters of the law have been making, arguing that this case is frivolous" (McCarthy, CongressDaily, 8/3).
Ruling Could Affect Midterm Elections
Hudson's ruling could signal the beginning of a prolonged legal battle, which could affect Novemberâs midterm elections, Reuters reports.
A hearing for the case is scheduled for Oct. 18, two weeks prior to the Nov. 2 congressional elections, where Republican candidates are expected to attack the new reform law (Pelofsky/Lambert, Reuters, 8/2).
White House Downplays Ruling
Despite the GOP backlash, Obama administration officials downplayed the ruling as a procedural decision ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/2).
Tracy Schmaler, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, noted that "there is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing" the overhaul (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/2).
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius indicated that the administration still believes the case will be settled in favor of health reform ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/2).
Sebelius also said that the ruling "just means there will be a full hearing on the arguments," adding that "this is just a step to move us to a debate on the merits of the case" (CongressDaily, 8/2).
Stephanie Cutter, a consultant hired by the White House to oversee the administration's communications strategy for the new health reform law, noted in an entry on the White House blog that legal challenges to other contentious legislation -- including the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act -- all failed. She added, "So, too, will the challenge to health reform" (New York Times, 8/2).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.