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Fourth Circuit questions authority to hear health care law challenge

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Monday ordered [text, PDF] parties to file briefs discussing whether the challenge to the health care reform law [text; JURIST news archive] is barred by a federal law that prevents injunctions against taxes before the tax is imposed. The lawsuits in this consolidated appeal challenge the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which requires that all citizens purchase health insurance. The three-judge panel asked the parties to address the applicability of the Anti-Injunction Act [text] and whether the individual mandate can be considered a "tax" under the Act regardless if it is a "tax" for Article I purposes. During oral arguments [JURIST report], the government had argued that the individual mandate was an extension of the power to tax and that a failure to comply would be enforced through taxation. The Department of Justice (DOJ) had also tried to have the challenges dismissed under the Anti-Injunction Act, but those arguments were rejected, and the government did not make that argument on appeal. The two lawsuits are being brought by the state of Virginia and Liberty University [academic website], founded by the late Jerry Falwell. The Liberty University lawsuit appeals a decision to dismiss its challenge of the individual mandate, while Virginia is seeking to uphold a ruling that it is unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. The parties have until May 31 to file their briefs.

The constitutionality of the individual mandate is a source of controversy and has spawned multiple lawsuits. Last week, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] asked the parties to respond to whether the court had standing [JURIST report] to hear a challenge before the effective date of the law. Earlier this month, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) [advocacy website] sought to have its challenge reinstated in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] after it was dismissed by the lower court. Last February, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked federal judge Roger Vinson to clarify that states must continue to enact the health care reform law as the government appeals from Vinson's January ruling finding the law unconstitutional [JURIST reports].

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