Appeals Court Tosses VA Challenges to Health Reform Law

John Commins, September 9, 2011

A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned a lower court and rejected Virginia's challenge to the federal healthcare reform law, ruling that the state lacked the standing to proceed with the suit.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals court tossed aside a ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson last December, who had sided with Virginia's Republican Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli and ruled that the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional. The appeals court sent the suit back to Hudson and told him to dismiss it.  

Also on Thursday, the appeals court rejected a separate lawsuit from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, that challenged the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The appeals court judges ruled that the university had no legal standing to challenge the mandate because it has not yet gone into effect.

In the Virginia challenge, Cuccinelli argued that the individual mandate to buy health insurance or pay a penalty conflicted with the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which says that state residents are not required to buy health insurance. The law enacted in Virginia in 2010 as Congress was debating the Affordable Care Act. 

The appeals court disagreed.

"Under Virginia's standing theory, a state could acquire standing to challenge any federal law merely by enacting a statute – even an utterly unenforceable one – purporting to prohibit the application of the federal law," Judge Diane Gribbon Motz in her opinion.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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