HEALTH REFORM -- May 10, 2011 at 5:30 PM EDT
Appeals Court Hears Virginia Health Care Reform Challenges
Updated 5:30 p.m. ET | The federal appeals panel heard more than two hours of arguments Tuesday in the two Virginia lawsuits challenging the new health care reform law.
The first case up was Liberty University's, argued by attorney Mathew Staver. The Affordable Care Act, he said, goes "far beyond the outer limits of the constitution by seeking to regulate for the first time in history, non-economic inactivity," he said, adding the mandate "forces inactive bystanders into the stream of commerce."
But Neal Kumar Katyal, acting U.S. solicitor general who is defending the law from numerous lawsuits around the country, countered that the requirement to buy health insurance was "necessary and proper," because people are already involved in commerce as consumers of health services. "Congress is regulating an activity. The activity is participation in the healthcare markets," Katyal stated.
"Everyone," he reasoned, "is going to seek healthcare;" the only question is who pays for the services. Katyal noted that uncompensated care costs $43 billion a year and raises the average family's health care premium by $1,000.
Throughout both hearings, Washington Post reporter Rosalind Helderman described the atmosphere inside the courtroom as "very interested, very curious, and very respectful," in an interview with The Rundown. She's been covering the Virginia lawsuit since it was filed last March.
In the second hearing, Virginia Solicitor General Duncan Getchell, Jr. focused on defending the states' right to sue. He also asserted the state assembly's right to pass a law declaring that the state's citizens could not be compelled by the government to buy insurance.
"If we are going to be a government of limited and enumerated powers, then you have to have a forum to sort it out," Getchell said. "If the federal courts are not the forum, then there's no forum."
Katyal countered if Virginia's tactic is allowed to stand, states will be able to pass laws exempting their citizens from any federal policy they don't like, including the war in Afghanistan and paying Social Security taxes.
The judges "aggressively questioned lawyers from both sides," according to Helderman, but the judges "did appear quite skeptical of the arguments from Liberty and from Virginia."
While legal experts caution against reading too much into questioning, Helderman said "there seemed to be glummer faces on the side of Virginia and the lawyers for Liberty than there were on the side of the government."
In a press conference following the oral arguments, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli - who filed the state's lawsuit against the federal government -- said the ongoing court battle creates "a great deal of uncertainty for states, individuals, and businesses as to whether this law will be around two years from now or not."
Cuccinelli vowed to appeal directly to the Supreme Court if the state's appeal was rejected in Richmond.
Ron Pollack, the Executive Director of Families USA, a group that has supported the Affordable Care Act, was encouraged by today's hearing. In a statement, he said: "Based on the oral argument in court today, it seems highly likely that the three-judge court will uphold the affordable Care act's individual responsibility provision."
Thirty-one lawsuits have been filed challenging the law, and nine of those have been appealed, but the two Virginia cases are the first to reach the argument stage in a federal appeals court.
The judges are expected to rule on this case within a few weeks. The court has posted full oral arguments for the Commonwealth of Virginia v. Kathleen Sebelius and Liberty University, Inc. v. Timothy Geithner.
Posted 10:30 a.m. ET | The legal battle over the new health care reform law has moved to Richmond, Virginia, with the first oral arguments in a federal appeals court. The three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard two separate cases -- one filed by Virginia's Attorney General, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the other filed by Liberty University, a conservative Christian school.
Both lawsuits question the constitutionality of the law and its individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to purchase insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. It's the first time the constitutionality question will be heard at the appellate level, moving the issue one step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judges for this case were randomly selected, and their names posted this morning on the court's Web site. Two were appointed by President Barack Obama, the third was appointed by former President Bill Clinton. Oral arguments are expected to last 40 minutes for each case, with the time evenly split between the sides.
The panel will not issue an immediate ruling, but the tone of their questions could shed light on their thinking.
In the most prominent case, The Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson became the first federal judge to rule the law unconstitutional in a December 2010 ruling. But Judge Hudson didn't go as far as to invalidate the law, or block its implementation. Hudson, a 2002 appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote, "An individual's personal decision to purchase - or decline to purchase - health insurance from a private provider is beyond the historical reach of the Commerce Clause."
But two weeks earlier, U.S. District Judge Normal Moon -- appointed by President Clinton -- reached the opposite conclusion in the suit filed by Liberty University in Lynchburg. Moon dismissed the lawsuit, and ruled the mandate is a proper exercise of congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.
University officials and five state residents argued Congress overreached its authority by requiring the university and other similar entities and businesses that employ more than 50 people to provide health insurance. They said the university could face fines of over a million dollars if the requirement was upheld. The plaintiffs also claimed the new law violates their religious rights, because federal money would go toward abortions.
Cuccinelli vowed to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court if his appeal is rejected. Last month, the Supreme Court rejected his request to fast track the case to the high court, without waiting for an appeals court review.
The rulings in these two cases are expected in a few weeks.