RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. appeals court in Virginia threw out two challenges to the Obama administration’s healthcare overhaul, saying it lacked authority to decide whether the measure is constitutional.
With the rulings, the Richmond-based court today became the second of three appellate panels this year to leave the law intact. The decisions came in separate cases challenging the statute’s requirement that individuals buy insurance or pay a penalty.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli vowed to appeal, saying, “Our disappointment not only stems from the fact that the court ruled against us but also that the court did not even reach the merits on the key question of Virginia's lawsuit — whether Congress has a power never before recognized in American history: the power to force one citizen to purchase a good or service from another citizen.”
The Virginia appeals stem from one challenge to the law by the state of Virginia and another by Liberty University, a Christian school that the late Rev. Jerry Falwell founded in Lynchburg, Va.
Cuccinelli noted that, by resting its decision on an alleged lack of standing by the commonwealth to even bring its lawsuit, the court dismissed Virginia's claimed injury as illusory.
"Contrary to the court's suggestion, this suit has always been about vindicating the power of the Virginia General Assembly to legislate about a subject that has historically been viewed as falling within the areas the Constitution left to the states. Health, safety, and welfare issues have long been recognized as being part of the powers reserved to the states by the Constitution," Cuccinelli said.
Cuccinelli noted that the court's stated reasons placed the ruling's reasoning at odds with constitutional design. "In rejecting Virginia's right to bring the action, the court said that allowing such suits would allow the states to serve as 'roving constitutional watchdogs.' This was exactly a role that the Founding Fathers planned for the states to have. As James Madison wrote, under the Constitution, 'the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments . . . Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments [state and federal] will control each other.'"
Today’s decision deepens a rift among the regional federal appeals courts, a division that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to resolve.
The administration won its first appeals court victory on June 29 when a Cincinnati panel turned aside a challenge to the law by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center, a Christian-based public interest law firm.
In a 2-1 decision, that court found that Congress had power to enact the insurance mandate through its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce. Thomas More appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court on July 27.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta invalidated the insurance-purchasing mandate in an Aug. 12 ruling, also by a 2-1 margin, concluding that Congress lacks authority to compel people to buy a product for their entire lives.
One lower-court ruling reviewed by the court upheld the healthcare law and another struck down part of it.
The United States calls the insurance mandate the linchpin of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claiming that, without expanding the pool of younger, healthier customers the insurance industry won’t be able to meet its obligations for coverage under the law. Absent the mandate, the health-insurance market will wither, the government said in court papers.
The individual mandate and expansions of Medicaid and employer-base coverage will provide about 32 million more people with coverage by 2019, Justice Department lawyers said, citing the Congressional Budget Office.
Virginia and Liberty University probably will file petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court in time for the justices to consider taking the case in its 2011-2012 session, said Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond and a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.