A Virginia court became the first in the country to hear oral arguments on the constitutional merits of the new federal health care law Monday, which requires all Americans to purchase health insurance.
In a federal court in Richmond, Judge Henry A. Hudson, who denied a federal government request that the suit be dismissed in August, heard arguments about the constitutionality of the health care law from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and the U.S. Justice Department. If he rules in the state’s favor, it could result in a flood of suits around the country from states that are seeking exemption from the law. Another federal judge last week ruled that a similar lawsuit in Florida could proceed on behalf of 20 states looking to be exempt from the mandate when it is implemented in 2014.
Cuccinelli challenged the law shortly after Congress passed it in April, arguing that the federal government cannot force citizens to purchase a product and that it would inflict millions of dollars in new burdens on the state’s health care system. The Virginia legislature already approved a measure that exempted Virginians from the mandate.
Attorneys from the Justice Department are representing the Obama administration, and argue that there is strong precedent to justify the mandate.
“This is nothing new,” Stephanie Cutter, White House assistant to the president for special projects, said of the law. “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.”
In a briefing after the hearing, Cuccinelli said he was trying to put the “federal government back inside the constitutional fence.”
“This case is not about health care. This case is about protecting our liberty. This case is about the states providing a check and balance to the federal government, which is exceeding the power we, the people, gave it through the Constitution,” Cuccinelli said. “If we lose this fight and the federal government is allowed to cross this line, Congress will be granted a virtually unlimited power to order you to buy anything.”
Judge Hudson indicated that he could rule on the constitutionality of the law by the end of the year.