Fourth Circuit finds it can rule on health care law challenge

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] decided Thursday there is no conflict with the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) [text] and that it can rule on two challenges to the health care reform [text; JURIST news archive]. Last week, the court requested briefs from all parties in Liberty v. Geithner and Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius [JURIST reports] explaining whether the individual mandate can be considered a "tax" under the Act regardless if it is a "tax" for Article I purposes. Although the Obama administration had previously argued that the AIA barred suits against health care reform, they discarded this argument in their briefs [Liberty text; Sebelius text] and stated the case should proceed.

In the district courts, the government argued for dismissal of these actions under the AIA. On further reflection, and on consideration of the decisions rendered thus far in the ACA litigation, the United States has concluded that the AIA does not foreclose the exercise of jurisdiction in these cases. Unique attributes of the text and structure of the ACA indicate that Congress did not intend to dictate a single pathway to judicial review of Section 5000A - i.e., failure to maintain minimum essential coverage starting more than two and a half years from now, in January 2014; payment of the tax penalty starting nearly four years from now, in April 2015; and, only then, commencement of an action seeking a tax refund.
In their brief [text], Liberty University [academic website] argued that the fines levied under health care reform do not constitute a tax and that judicial review was the only way to challenge health care reform. Virginia made similar arguments [text]. Liberty University's lawsuit appeals a decision to dismiss its challenge of the individual mandate, while Virginia is seeking to uphold a ruling that it is unconstitutional.

The Fourth Circuit heard arguments [JURIST report] in the two cases last month. Earlier this week, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] heard arguments [JURIST report] in a similar challenge. The Sixth Circuit had previously asked the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing whether the court had jurisdiction [JURIST report] to hear a challenge before the effective date of the law. Last 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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