by Jeremy Leaming
A federal appeals court earlier today rejected two legal challenges, on procedural grounds, to the Obama administration’s landmark health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act.
On the day President Obama signed the measure into law, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, supported by an array of right-wing groups, lodged a lawsuit arguing that the law’s individual responsibility provision, which requires individuals, starting in 2014, to maintain health care insurance coverage, amounted to an unconstitutional use of congressional power.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today tossed aside Cuccinelli’s law suit, saying the state lacked standing to bring the complaint.
“Standing here turns on whether Virginia has suffered the necessary ‘injury in fact,’” wrote Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz for the panel in Virginia v. Sebelius. “To satisfy that requirement, Virginia must demonstrate that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act ‘inva[des]’ its ‘legally protected interest,’ in a manner that is both ‘concrete and particularized’ and ‘actual and imminent.’”
In this case, Cuccinelli argued that the individual responsibility provision of the ACA conflicts with the “Virginia Health Care Freedom Act,” hindering the state’s “sovereign power.”
But Judge Motz concluded that the ACA’s individual responsibility provision “threatens no interest in the ‘enforceability’” of the Virginia health care law.
“Contrary to Virginia’s arguments, the mere existence of a state law like the VHCFA does not license a state to mount a judicial challenge to any federal statute with which the state law assertedly conflicts,” Motz wrote. “Rather, only when a federal law interferes with a state’s exercise of its sovereign ‘power to create and enforce a legal code’ does it inflict on the state the requisite injury-in-fact.”
Here, Virginia’s health care law, Motz, wrote “regulates nothing and provides for the administration of no state program. Instead, it simply purports to immunize Virginia citizens from federal law. In doing so, the VHCFA reflects no exercise of ‘sovereign power,’ for Virginia lacks the sovereign authority to nullify federal law.”
Motz said Virginia’s real interest was not in enforcing a state law, but rather in exempting Virginians from a federal law.
The Fourth Circuit also rejected, on procedural grounds, a lawsuit brought by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University arguing that several provisions of the ACA are unconstitutional. Judge Andre Davis lodged a dissent, however, arguing that the court should have ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA.