The day after President Obama signed the ObamaCare legislation, the state of Virginia filed suit against it, and followed up the next day by passing the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act.
The VHCFA was designed to protect Virginia citizens from being forced to buy health insurance by ObamaCare’s now-infamous “individual mandate.” Today the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the conflict between this law and federal health-care legislation was not sufficient to give the state of Virginia standing to sue, overturning a lower court decision that went against ObamaCare.
The Washington Times notes that the appeals court also ruled that “Liberty University couldn’t challenge the mandate until it goes into effect.” Whatever the legal merits of this decision, it seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Wouldn’t it make more sense for incredibly expensive, economically disastrous legislation to be tested for constitutionality before it bites somebody’s liberty off? Especially since those programs are notoriously difficult to repeal? Shouldn’t we be more careful about buying into schemes hatched by a massive central government that has no competitors, and does not give refunds?
Fox News repeats what everyone already knows: this is all headed to the Supreme Court, and we just have to suffer through wasteful expenses, high unemployment, and crippling uncertainty until it gets there:
But the court on Thursday stopped short of ruling whether the individual mandate in the health care law is constitutional; it strictly examined Virginia’s right to sue.
The Supreme Court will likely have the final say on the health care law after more than 30 lawsuits were filed and contradictory rulings were issued from appellate courts in other parts of the country. Last month, an appeals court in Atlanta ruled against the law, saying the provision to buy health care insurance is unconstitutional. But an appeals court in Cincinnati has upheld the law.
Mike Singer of the New Dominion Project accurately predicted today’s decision in the course of summarizing an article from University of Richmond law professor Kevin Walsh, back in March 2011:
To properly hear a case, a court must have what’s called “subject matter jurisdiction.” This is because all courts can’t be all things to all people. Federal courts, for instance, generally hear cases related to federal law, while local and state courts generally hear cases related to local and state law. Just as you wouldn’t expect a federal judge to hear your traffic ticket, you wouldn’t expect a Virginia circuit court judge to hear your bankruptcy claim.
This is where it gets problematic for Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against ACA. The AG’s lawsuit claims that the new law exceeds the narrow parameters set out for federal law by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, impermissibly forcing Virginians to have health insurance. It does this by resting its argument on the so-called Health Care Freedom Act that the Republican-led General Assembly passed a year ago, declaring the individual mandate illegal in Virginia.
In other words, the AG’s suit requires the federal court to find a state law valid, as the means for declaring the federal law invalid. As Walsh explains, “The premise of Virginia’s claim of standing to attack the individual mandate in federal court was the asserted need to defend the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act.”
The problem is that courts have very explicitly said that this sort of approach fails the subject matter jurisdiction test — it fails to satisfy the simple requirement that courts hear the sorts of complaints they’re designed for — because federal courts are not supposed to hear claims about state law.
Which is logical enough, but also looks like another rusty cog in the legal machinery of an all-powerful federal government that can do virtually anything it wants… unless nine black-robed superheroes headquartered just down the road from Capitol Hill decide to stop it. Their next adventure will be the final battle in defense of individual liberty, fought against the idea that Washington can not only control commerce, but actually force unwilling citizens to engage in it.