Federal judge allows Virginia health care suit to proceed
Federal judge allows Virginia health care suit to proceed
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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Monday denied a motion to dismiss [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit brought by the state of Virginia challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted health care reform law [HR 3590 text; JURIST news archive]. The lawsuit [complaint, PDF], which challenges a provision of the law requiring every individual to purchase health insurance, was filed in March. In rejecting the motion to dismiss, Judge Henry Hudson stated that his decision was a narrow one, addressing only the questions of subject matter jurisdiction [Cornell LII backgrounder] and the legal sufficiency of the complaint. The court found that Virginia had standing to bring the case because the federal health care law directly contradicts a state law [JURIST report] purporting to prevent the enforcement of a federal mandate, which the state has an interest in defending. The court also held that the lawsuit was “ripe for adjudication,” despite the fact that the individual mandate provision does not become effective until 2014, because the effects of the law will be felt in the near future. In finding that the lawsuit stated a legally viable cause of action, the court found that the question of whether Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] and the Tax Clause was one that:

[R]aise[d] 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. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor any circuit court of appeals has squarely addressed this issue. No reported case from any federal appellate court has extended the Commerce Clause or Tax Clause to include the regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product, notwithstanding its effect on interstate commerce. Given the presence of some authority arguably supporting the theory underlying each side’s position, this Court cannot conclude at this stage that the Complaint fails to state a cause of action.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for October [WP report].

The Obama administration filed [JURIST report] its brief [text, PDF] urging the dismissal of a lawsuit in May. In the brief, attorneys representing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius [official website] argued that the state lacks standing to challenge the provision because it “alleges no actual or imminent injury to its own interests as a state.” Additionally, the brief argued that even if Virginia had standing, the law is a constitutional exercise of congressional Commerce Clause power under Supreme Court [official website] precedent. The Virginia General Assembly [official website] passed the ban on a federal mandate in March. The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act was the first of its kind passed by any state, and says that no individual shall be held liable if they refuse to sign up for health care. Also in May, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) [association website], a small business lobby group, joined a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the health care reform law. The NFIB joined 20 states in a suit that began in March when a complaint seeking injunction and declaratory relief was filed [JURIST reports] in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida [official website]. Among the allegations in the suit are violations of Article I and the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution [text], committed by levying a tax without regard to census data, property, or profession, and for invading the the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under the Commerce Clause.