Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Va. in Health Care Battle

Monday, Dec 13, 2010  |  Updated 7:39 PM EDT
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A <a title=Virginia federal judge struck down that government can force all Americans to get health care." />

Julie Carey

A Virginia federal judge struck down that government can force all Americans to get health care.

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A federal judge in Virginia has declared part of President Barack Obama's health care law unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson is the first judge to rule against the law, which has been upheld by two others in Virginia and Michigan, the Associated Press reported.

"This case, however, turns on atypical and uncharted applications of constitutional law interwoven with subtle political undercurrents," Hudson wrote. "The outcome of this case has significant public policy implications. And the final word will undoubtedly reside with a higher court."

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's lawsuit challenged the health care law's requirement that citizens buy health insurance or pay a penalty starting in 2014. Cuccinelli argued that requiring people who already have health insurance to buy a certain type of insurance is one thing, but that if you aren't already part of that stream of commerce, the federal government doesn't have the authority to pull you into it, Pete Williams explained on MSNBC.

The federal government argued that those who don't buy insurance eventually show up for health care, anyway. The Department of Justice, which defended the law in court, stood by its argument that Congress was within its rights to enact the law. It argued the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives the government the power to require individuals to buy health insurance or face a penalty, a provision due to take effect in 2014.

"We are disappointed in today's ruling but continue to believe -- as other federal courts in Virginia and Michigan have found -- that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional," said Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.

Hudson ruled that the 2014 requirement is beyond the power of Congress, so he basically just cut that part out of the law and left the rest standing, Williams reported. Virginia wanted the entire law stopped, but because of the other lawsuits pending, Hudson ruled there was no point stopping enforcement of the rest of the law at this time.

"Our belief is that when all the legal wrangling is done, this is something that will be upheld," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the requirement is essential to the law's guarantee of coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Virginia had passed a law saying that people in the commonwealth couldn't be forced to buy health care, which gave this case solid legal ground. Cuccinelli filed this lawsuit in defense of that Virginia law.

"This won't be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution," Cuccinelli said in a statement after the ruling.

The Obama administration expected to lose, Williams reported. Hudson, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, sounded sympathetic to the state's case when he heard oral arguments in October, the AP reported. Obama administration officials told reporters last week that a negative ruling would have virtually no impact on the law's implementation, noting that its two major provisions -- the coverage mandate and the creation of new insurance markets -- don't take effect until 2014.

White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle said that while Hudson ruled against the law, the administration is encouraged by two other federal judges that previously upheld the law. The Justice Department is reviewing Hudson's ruling, DeParle told the AP.

Other lawsuits are pending, including one filed by 20 states in a Florida court. Virginia is not part of that lawsuit, which is to be heard later this week, Williams reported.


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