Judge refuses to block Virginia challenge to health-care reform
Obama administration lawyers asked a federal judge to dismiss a Virginia lawsuit against federal health-care reform. But the judge cleared the way for an October hearing.
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“Never before has the [Constitution’s] commerce clause and associated necessary and proper clause been extended this far,” Hudson wrote.Skip to next paragraph
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The judge added that it was an “even closer and equally unsettled issue” whether the health care law’s individual mandate was authorized under Congress’s taxing powers.
The Obama administration is asking the courts to embrace an expansive view of Congressional power. Justice Department lawyers say Congress's power to impose a tax for the general welfare is checked only by the voters. Administration lawyers also told Hudson that the “courts are without authority to limit the exercise of the taxing power.”
Congress’s authority to impose a tax is broad enough to extend into areas that would exceed the national legislature’s limited powers under Article 1 of the Constitution, administration lawyers said.
Lawyers for Virginia counter that the health care law imposes a penalty – rather than a tax – on citizens who decide not to participate. While Congress has broad powers to impose a tax, its powers to impose a penalty are more constrained, they say.
The Virginia lawyers are also defending a state law passed earlier this year that sought to preserve the right of Virginia residents to decide for themselves whether to purchase health insurance. The law is in direct conflict with the individual mandate imposed in the Obama reform law. Under the Constitution’s supremacy clause, any clash between a federal law and a conflicting state law must be resolved in favor of the federal law.
But Virginia lawyers argue that the federal health care law is unconstitutional and that the state’s law should be upheld.
The Virginia lawsuit is one of several legal challenges pending in the courts testing the Obama health care plan. In addition to the Virginia suit, a group of attorneys general are joined together in a suit filed in Florida raising similar issues. There has been no ruling in that case yet.
In noting the national significance of the issues and the murky state of the law, Hudson suggested there may be many legal twists and turns in the case ahead. “While this court’s decision may set the initial judicial course of this case, it will certainly not be the final word,” he said.
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