Judge Allows Virginia Lawsuit Against Health Reform to Move Forward

BY Lea Winerman  August 2, 2010 at 4:28 PM EST

A federal judge on Monday declined the Justice Department’s request to throw out Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli’s lawsuit challenging the new federal health care reform law, a decision that gave opponents of the law their first significant legal victory.

Cucinelli has sued the federal government on behalf of the state of Virginia. The lawsuit alleges that the health reform law’s provision requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 is unconstitutional. Specifically, it says that the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not include penalizing people who don’t buy health insurance.

In his decision, Judge Henry Hudson ruled that there were enough legal issues in question to allow the case to proceed.

“The congressional enactment under review — the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision — literally forges new ground and extends Commerce Clause powers beyond its current high watermark,” he wrote.

However, he also acknowledged the lawsuit’s political undertones:

“Although this case is laden with public policy implications and has a distinctive political undercurrent, at this stage the sole issues before the court are subject matter jurisdiction and the legal sufficiency of the Complaint.”

The Wall Street Journal has posted the full decision here.

This is the first significant legal ruling on the new health care reform law, but it is only the beginning of what will likely be a long legal fight as this lawsuit and others continue. Twenty other states have joined a separate suit challenging the law. (Today’s ruling does not affect that lawsuit.)

Cucinelli said he was pleased with the decision that would allow Virginia’s lawsuit to move forward:

“We are pleased that Judge Hudson agreed that Virginia has the standing to move forward with our suit and that our complaint alleged a valid claim,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “This lawsuit is not about health care, it’s about our freedom and about standing up and calling on the federal government to follow the ultimate law of the land — the Constitution.”

But the White House and the Justice Department both issued statements playing down the significance of Monday’s news.

“Having failed in the legislative arena, opponents of reform are now turning to the courts in an attempt to overturn the work of the democratically elected branches of government,” the White House statement said.

“This is nothing new. We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act – constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed. So too will the challenge to health reform.”