A federal judge will decide within the next month whether Virginia’s lawsuit against Obamacare will proceed, according to state Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli and his team of lawyers made their arguments in court for the first time Thursday, arguing that the suit should move forward in spite of opposition from the Obama Administration.
Virginia Eastern District Court Judge Henry Hudson heard oral arguments from both Virginia and the federal government on the administration’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Each side presented its case before the judge for one hour.
Cuccinelli’s lawsuit challenges the individual mandate component of the healthcare reform law. The attorney general believes the federal government has overstepped its authority by forcing Americans to purchase health insurance. The federal government claims that it has the power to impose the mandate under the commerce clause of the Constitution and that Virginia lacks standing to sue.
“From time to time it is up to states to remind the federal government of its constitutional boundaries and to push back when it oversteps its authority,” Cuccinelli said. “That is what we believe the federal government has done with this bill.”
As Virginia’s lawyers were arguing their case, Virginia’s Health Care Freedom Act officially went into effect. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the law in March, making it illegal to require a citizen of the state to buy health insurance.”
“What Virginia is defending is the right of citizens to not engage in commerce, and if not engaging in commerce is commerce, then there are no limits on the federal government,” Cuccinelli said, referring to the new law.
Although the Obama Administration has attempted to characterize the Virginia lawsuit as a policy battle, the attorney general has repeatedly stated that the lawsuit is not about healthcare, but about liberty.
“When I took my oath of office the first thing I swore to do was to uphold and protect the United States Constitution and then the Virginia Constitution and the Virginia statutes,” Cuccinelli said. “We are protecting the U.S. Constitution today and the Virginia statutes from the federal government as the founders intended.”
Florida, along with 20 other states, filed a similar suit arguing that the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to impose a mandate forcing its citizens to buy health insurance.
“We cited the federal government’s Florida brief against the federal government in court today twice,” Cuccinelli said. “In our case, we are watching them and in the Florida case, they are clearly watching here because we each get information from what is going on that is potentially useful.”
Thursday’s hearing comes after months of legal wrangling between both parties. Cuccinelli filed suit on March 23, the same day President Obama signed the healthcare bill into law. The Obama Administration responded on May 24 with a motion to dismiss the suit which prompted Cuccinelli to file a memorandum in opposition in to the motion in early June.
In addition to arguing that the mandate is authorized by the Commerce Clause, Cuccinelli said that the government also justified the mandate by claiming that it was a tax. This assertion contradicts the administration’s previous denial that the mandate is a tax increase.
The attorney general took note of the fact that the bill does not have a severability clause, a clause that is typically inserted into legislation to protect certain parts of the statute if one element is found to be unconstitutional. Cuccinelli said that the absence of such a clause increases the likelihood of the entire bill falling should his side prevail.
“Normally, one would expect that if a bill with an unconstitutional element to it and no severability clause is found unconstitutional, the whole bill would fall,” the attorney general said.
Cuccinelli declined to make a prediction on what the judge would decide, stating that he was cautiously optimistic before Thursday’s hearing and that his position remains unchanged. The attorney general did say, however, that the public should know soon where the case stands.
“A two-and-a-half-week ruling would be unusually fast for something of the nature of this case,” he said, “but we are in the eastern district of Virginia. They are known for being fast.”