Virginia Seeks Hastened Supreme Court Review of Health Reform Case
On Thursday, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) announced that he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to immediately review a federal district court judge's ruling that the federal health reform law's individual mandate is unconstitutional, before the case has been fully litigated in an appellate court, the Washington Post reports (Helderman, Washington Post, 2/3).
That ruling came in response to a lawsuit Cuccinelli filed in March 2010. In a December 2010 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. Hudson did not invalidate the law or block its implementation (California Healthline, 12/15/10).
Virginia officials and the Obama administration filed formal notices of appeal to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. The administration argued that Hudson was wrong in his ruling of the mandate, while Virginia officials argued that Hudson should have struck down the entire overhaul (California Healthline, 1/21).
Last month, federal judges in the Fourth Circuit appeals court agreed to move up to May 10 their review of the ruling (Washington Post, 2/3).
Cuccinelli Seeks 'Prompt Resolution'
Cuccinelli said he was seeking a "prompt resolution" to the lawsuit because "state governments and private businesses are being forced to expend enormous amounts of resources to prepare to implement a law that, in the end, may be declared unconstitutional" (Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 2/4).
Cuccinelli explained that divergent rulings in similar lawsuits elsewhere created an uncertainty that makes it "necessary to seek resolution of this issue as quickly as possible."
Two other federal judges -- in Michigan and Lynchburg, Va. -- ruled in favor of the administration and upheld the law. On Monday, a federal judge in the Florida-based 26-state lawsuit ruled that the insurance mandate is unconstitutional, and he also invalidated the entire law because he concluded that the mandate is "inextricably bound" to other provisions in the law (Vicini/Lambert, Reuters, 2/3).
DOJ Opposes Cuccinelli's Request
Tracy Schmaler, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice, in a statement said that the federal government opposes Cucinelli's motion to fast-track the case to the Supreme Court.
She added that DOJ continues "to believe this case should follow the ordinary course" in the appellate court so that the arguments about the law can be fully developed before they are presented to the high court.
Schmaler also said that the individual mandate is not scheduled to be implemented until 2014 and that the Fourth Circuit appeals court already has scheduled oral arguments in May.
Prospect of Cuccinelli's Petition
Cuccinelli acknowledged that an expedited review in the Supreme Court would be unusual, but said that his lawsuit and the other challenges also are "truly exceptional in their own right" (Sack, New York Times, 2/3).
Legal experts have said that petitions for a writ of certiorari in federal cases rarely are granted if they have not been first adjudicated in a U.S. Court of Appeals (California Healthline, 12/14/10).
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