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Fourth Circuit rejects health care challenges

WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal appeals court rejected two challenges to the 2010 health-care reform law Sept. 8 in another step toward what appears will be a Supreme Court ruling on the controversial measure.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., returned both lawsuits to lower courts and ordered them to be dismissed. The state of Virginia brought one challenge, which was rejected unanimously by a three-judge panel. Liberty University and two individuals sued in the other case, which was decided in a 2-1 ruling by the same panel.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had challenged the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance. Liberty had brought suit against both the individual and employer mandates. The latter requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide health insurance.

In rejecting the challenges, the Fourth Circuit declined to rule on the constitutionality of either mandate. The judges said Virginia did not have legal standing to sue, because the requirement is on individuals and not a state. The panel said Liberty’s suit “constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax” and therefore could not be brought until the “tax” is paid. The health-care law will not become fully implemented until 2014.

Previously, two federal appeals courts had split on challenges to the health care law. In June, the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, upheld the individual mandate. The 11th Circuit in Atlanta struck down the same requirement in August.

“Our disappointment not only stems from the fact that the court ruled against us, Cuccinelli said in statement, “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.”

Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a written release, “From the beginning everyone knew that the final frontier in the battle over ObamaCare would be the United States Supreme Court. … We look forward to the final round in this battle over ObamaCare” at the high court.

Critics of the health-care law commonly refer to it as “Obamacare” because of President Obama’s support for the measure.

The White House welcomed the Fourth Circuit’s actions. “We are confident we will prevail,” said Stephanie Cutter, deputy senior advisor to the president, on the White House blog.

The Fourth Circuit panel in both opinions Sept. 8 consisted of Diana Motz, James Wynn and Andre Davis. President Clinton nominated Motz, while Obama selected Wynn and Davis.

Davis dissented in the Liberty decision.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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