Va. AG 'much relieved' after reading health care ruling

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 28, 2012, 12:22pm


RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) - Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who initially railed against the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Thursday mostly upholding the federal health care law, admitted later in the day it was "not a sad day at all."

Cuccinelli, who held a press conference at noon Thursday after he and his staff spent more time pouring over the Court's opinions, said he was most concerned about the ruling's impact on individual liberty and the U.S. Constitution.

"Obviously, I don't support much of the policy," the Republican attorney general told reporters. "And that is a loss from my perspective.

"But having read more of the opinions, I'm much relieved about individual rights and the states' rights within the constitutional structure."

Earlier Thursday, Cuccinelli's office issued a press release calling Thursday a "dark day for American liberty."

"This is a dark day for the American people, the Constitution and the rule of law," he said in his initial reaction to the Court's ruling.

"This decision goes against the very principle that America has a federal government of limited powers; a principle that the Founding Fathers clearly wrote into the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

"The Constitution was meant to restrict the power of government precisely for the purpose of protecting your liberty and mine from the overreaching hand of the federal government."

The nation's high court, in its highly-anticipated ruling, said the controversial provision of the health care reform requiring individuals to purchase insurance or face a financial penalty is a constitutional tax.

More than two years after President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the Court ruled 5-4 that most of it is constitutional.

The chief issue was the individual mandate, which imposed a $695 annual penalty on individuals who did not purchase health insurance. Obama's own budget director said in February that the mandate was not a tax.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

"Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

Roberts was joined in the majority by Obama-appointees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as well as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Voting against the ACA were justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Thursday's opinion also said that if a state does not comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid, the states can only lose new funds available instead of all of their funding.

"Our initial reaction was, frankly, more negative," Cuccinelli said during the press conference. "Now that we've had more time to spend looking at the opinions, it is not -- for those of us concerned with the preservation of the Constitution -- a sad day at all."

The attorney general pointed to the majority opinion:

"The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years both our decisions and Congress's actions have reflected this understanding. There is no reason to depart from that understanding now," Roberts wrote.

The justice continued in the ruling, "Everyone will likely participate in the markets for food, clothing, transportation, shelter, or energy; that does not authorize Congress to direct them to purchase particular products in those or other markets today. The Commerce Clause is not a general license to regulate an individual from cradle to grave, simply because he will predictably engage in particular transactions.

"Any police power to regulate individuals as such, as opposed to their activities, remains vested in the States."

Cuccinelli said it is the first time the nation's high court has outlined such restrictions in an opinion.

"Individual liberty has been substantially preserved in this case," he said of the Court's ruling.

Now that most of the health care law stands, it becomes a policy question, the attorney general said.

"I'll admit, I had hoped to see this bill fall on its entirety," Cuccinelli said.

But the future of the law -- specifically, its implementation -- lies in the hands of lawmakers and voters come November, he said.

Cuccinelli had filed a separate lawsuit against the ACA over its individual mandate.

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in Virginia's case that Cuccinelli did not have standing to challenge the law on behalf of the State because it wouldn't be affected by the mandate.

Only individual Virginians would be, the court said in overturning a district judge's ruling.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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