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Federal judge allows Mississippi health care reform challenge to proceed

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website] ruled this week that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform law [JURIST backgrounder] will be allowed to proceed. The lawsuit was filed by citizens of Mississippi, including the state's Lt. Governor Phil Bryant [official website] acting as a private citizen, and alleges that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) individual mandate provision is unconstitutional [Hattiesburg American report]. The plaintiffs argue that if it stands, the law would allow Congress virtually unlimited power in regulating private activities. The plaintiffs also allege that they are currently being harmed by the individual mandate provision, which does not go into effect until 2014, because they are having to forgo spending now [AP report] in order to save money to pay a possible penalty for not having insurance in the future. District Judge Keith Starrett stated that the government's arguments for a dismissal were not persuasive and that the private citizens have standing to challenge the law as a violation of medical privacy [Laurel Leader-Call report]. Starrett did dismiss a claim brought by Bryant on behalf of state employees on the basis that Bryant is not guaranteed to be an employee of the state in 2014 because his term is up at the end of the year, and therefore cannot represent a group that will be harmed by the individual mandate provision. Bryant praised the decision [statement] allowing the lawsuit to proceed stating that he has long believed that the legislation is unconstitutional, and that he looks forward to continuing the court proceedings. A lawyer for Bryant indicated that he may refile the claim on behalf of state employees if he is elected governor.

Similar cases challenging the constitutionality of PPACA are being heard in federal courts across the nation. Last month, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] struck down the individual mandate [JURIST report] as unconstitutional. Earlier in August, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by a physician organization for lack of standing. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [official website] upheld the law in June, and the ruling was appealed [JURIST reports] by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) [advocacy website] to the US Supreme Court [official website]. Also in June, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] decided it could rule on two challenges to PPACA after the court requested briefs [JURIST report] from all parties on whether the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) [text], which prevents injunctions against taxes before the tax is imposed, would bar review of PPACA until it is implemented. The Fourth Circuit already heard arguments [JURIST report] in May to resolve a split decision between the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruling against the individual mandate and the Western District of Virginia dismissing a challenge [JURIST reports] of the law.

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