Feds, Virginia make arguments in health care reform lawsuit


RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge in Virginia could rule by the end of the year whether the Obama administration's federal health care reform package is constitutional.

Judge Henry E. Hudson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, heard oral arguments in Virginia's case against the federal government's health care law on Monday. Each side was given an hour to argue its case.

Virginia's is the first state case to be heard on the merits of its arguments.

The law requires that nearly all Americans purchase health insurance beginning in 2014.

Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General Ian H. Gershengorn, for the federal government, argued on Monday that Congress has the authority to enact the mandate because if individuals do not buy insurance, doing so could affect the economy and affect others because those individuals will inevitably use publicly funded health care.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has argued that state law prevents individuals from being penalized for not purchasing health insurance.

Virginia Soliciter General E. Duncan Getchell Jr., who argued for the State Monday, said Congress overstepped its constitutional authority by enacting such a provision.

Cuccinelli, who held a press conference following the federal district court hearing, said the law requires consumers to buy a product and that they are being punished for doing nothing.

"The individual insurance mandate represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional exercise of federal power because it penalizes Americans for not engaging in commerce," the attorney general said following the hearing.

"This case is not about health care. This case is about protecting our liberty. This case is about the states providing a check and balance to the federal government, which is exceeding the power we,
the people, gave it through the Constitution.

"If we lose this fight and the federal government is allowed to cross this line, Congress will be granted a virtually unlimited power to order you to buy anything. That is not rhetoric. That is reality."

Cuccinelli blasted the federal government's reasoning, saying it also could be used to claim that the government has the authority to force you to buy a car.

"Because if you do not buy a car, you are making an economic decision that will affect others because you will inevitably use publicly subsidized busses later," he said. "And the government will not only have the authority to tell you to buy a car, but what kind of car and what features are required."

The attorney general filed the lawsuit shortly after President Barack Obama signed the legislation in March.

His office argued in court on July 1 against the federal government's motion to dismiss the suit and won that round when the judge returned his decision on Aug. 2 saying that the case could go forward. The hearing Monday focused strictly on the constitutionality of the health care law.

There are more than a dozen other lawsuits challenging the same "individual mandate" in President Barack Obama's bill.

In fact, Virginia's lawsuit is one of more than 15 that have been brought across the country challenging the requirement.

The state's suit also is separate from a case filed in Florida jointly by 20 other states and led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

A Florida judge, just last week, allowed the suit to move forward, ruling that the states could have a case.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson issued a 65-page ruling on the federal government's motion to dismiss the challenge Thursday. He dismissed four of the lawsuit's six counts.

Proceeding, though, is a group of 20 states' main argument -- that requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or face a $695 yearly penalty is unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, a judge in Michigan upheld the requirement to buy insurance, saying that Congress acted within its authority.

If Hudson rules that the mandate is unconstitutional, Cuccinelli is asking for an injunction against the entire health care act.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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