Appeals Court Panel Dismisses Virginia Obamacare Lawsuit

National   Steven Ertelt   Sep 8, 2011   |   1:33PM    Richmond, VA

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court today dismissed the lawsuit the state of Virginia filed against the Obamacare law, which is one of several lawsuits that are working their way to the Supreme Court.

The decision is no surprise given the stacked nature of the panel, as computers at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that randomly selected the panel of three judges from the appeals court to conduct oral hearings on the legal debate surrounding the law picked three judges from a evenly-divided court who are all Democrats. All three judges listening to two legal challenges were appointed by Democrats — Judge Diana Motz, the senior member of the panel, is a Clinton appointee while Judges Andre Davis and James Wynn were appointed by Obama.

The three judges dismissed the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the national health care law’s individual mandate by saying the state lacked the standing to sue. As a result of the decision, the panel did not delve into the merits of the case itself and whether the Obama administration has the Constitutional ability to compel citizens to purchase health care, which could pay for abortions with taxpayer funds and include rationing. The judges disagreed with Virginia’s contention that it was an injured party because it passed a law before Obamacare making it so Virginia residents are not required to purchase health care insurance.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issues a statement responding to the decision saying he is “disappointed” by it and planned to appeal it to the full federal appeals court.

“Obviously, we are disappointed in the ruling. Our disappointment not only stems from the fact that the court ruled against us, but also that the court did not even reach the merits on the key question of Virginia’s lawsuit-whether Congress has a power never before recognized in American history: the power to force one citizen to purchase a good or service from another citizen,” said the pro-life state official.

“Contrary to the court’s suggestion, this suit has always been about vindicating the power of the Virginia General Assembly to legislate about a subject that has historically been viewed as falling within the areas the Constitution left to the states. Health, safety, and welfare issues have long been recognized as being part of the powers reserved to the states by the Constitution,” Cuccinelli said. “In rejecting Virginia’s right to bring the action, the court said that allowing such suits would allow the states to serve as ‘roving constitutional watchdogs.’ This was exactly a role that the Founding Fathers planned for the states to have. As James Madison wrote, under the Constitution, ‘the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments…Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments [state and federal] will control each other.”

“Not only does the court’s opinion reject the role of the states envisioned by the Constitution, it dismisses an act of the Virginia General Assembly-the Health Care Freedom Act-as a mere pretense or pretext. It is unfortunate that the court would be so dismissive of a piece of legislation that passed both houses of a divided legislature by overwhelming margins with broad, bipartisan support,” he added.

In a separate decision, the court also ruled that Liberty University, which brought a separate lawsuit, also lacks standing to sue. Judge Andre M. Davis dissented from the 2-1 majority opinion in the Liberty case on tax reasons, though he did agree the individual mandate is constitutional under the Commerce Clause.

The ruling now has three federal appeals courts at odds with one another as the Sixth Circuit also sided with the Obama administration while the 11th Circuit struck down the individual mandate in the case Florida brought along with two dozen other states. As such, the Supreme Court will likely issue a final ruling in a merged case.

Last year U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson ruled Congress exceeded its authority by forcing Americans to buy health insurance via the individual mandate while Virginia had passed a law barring the federal government from making its citizens buy health insurance.

In the Virginia case, the judge ruled on December 13 that  no court had expanded the Commerce Clause to allow the government to regulate a person’s decision not to buy a product.

“At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate,” Hudson wrote.

The Obama administration is so concerned about the lawsuit that the pro-abortion president dispatched acting solicitor general Neal Kumar Katyal, who normally argues before the Supreme Court, to argue for upholding Obamacare. Matthew Staver, a pro-life attorney, argued for Liberty University, while state solicitor general E. Duncan Getchell, Jr. presented the case for Virginia.

Staver commented on the case in advance of Tuesday’s historic oral arguments: “It is the hope of many Americans that this lawsuit is a fast track to the ultimate demise of this overreaching health insurance law. This law represents an astonishing extension of the federal government into the personal and business decisions of Americans. If Obamacare should be upheld by the courts, then there are no limits on what Congress can do. I think it is clear that Congress far exceeded its authority under the Constitution.”

Matt Barber, Director of Cultural Affairs with Liberty Counsel and the Associate Dean with Liberty University School of Law, commented on the cases.

“The Obama-Pelosi-Reid triumvirate ambitiously maintains – against considerable evidence to the contrary – that Democrats’ particular brand of health care reform is so important, so unique that the U.S. government is justified – for the first time in history – in forcing every American citizen to purchase his own untenable, unsustainable and demonstratively defective product under penalty of law,” he says. “Obamacare categorically lays the groundwork for universal health care. They didn’t just sell us a lemon, they squeezed it in our eyes and said, “pay up or else.”

“This is a case of first impression. That is to say, no Supreme Court case has ever allowed the federal government to force people into the stream of commerce. Neither has the high court ever permitted the federal government to compel its citizens to buy a government-defined product. If government has the authority to force unwilling citizens to purchase health insurance, then there is simply no limit to the power this mushrooming centralized mammoth can wield,” Barber added.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate rejected a move by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to have the Senate approve a bill the House approved to repeal Obamacare. Senators voted along party lines with all Democrats — including three who say they are pro-life — voting against repealing the abortion-funding bill while all Republicans supported repeal.

When Congress passed the government-run health care bill, it did so without any limits on abortion funding and language mandating taxpayer financing of abortion in certain circumstances. Obama eventually issued a controversial executive order supposedly taking the abortion funding issue off the table.

However, virtually every pro-life group said it would not mitigate the abortion funding because it doesn’t have the effect of law, could be reversed in the future, and because it didn’t tackle much of the abortion funding in the bill. The Obama administration could also ignore the order and not put it in place when the health care law goes into effect.

Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana have passed similar bills that have already been signed into law by governors in those states and several other states are expected to consider legislation in their upcoming legislative sessions. Governors in Oklahoma and Florida vetoed similar legislation.