KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

4th Circuit Appeals Court Rejects Virginia, Liberty University Challenges To Health Law

The Virginia case, brought by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was considered one of the highest profile health law challenges to the health law. In its opinion, issued today, the appellate court ruled that the state does not have standing to challenge the law's individual mandate because it lacks "a personal stake." It also concluded that Liberty University's challenge should be dismissed.

Here are the court's opinions regarding both the commonwealth of Virginia's challenge and Liberty University's challenges to the health law.

The Hill: "A federal appeals court today dismissed one of the highest-profile challenges to President Obama's healthcare reform law. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli does not have a legal right to sue over the law's requirement that most people buy insurance. The court vacated a lower court's ruling in the case and instructed the lower court to dismiss the suit" (Baker, 9/8).

Politico: "Delivering a two-pronged win to the Obama administration, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said Virginia has no right to challenge the law's requirement that nearly all Americans buy insurance. The court also said effectively that Liberty University couldn't challenge the law before the mandate goes into effect.
The legal victories might not provide the administration with much political ammunition against the law's critics, though, since the rulings didn’t focus on the merits of the law" (Haberkorn, 9/8).

The Wall Street Journal: "In one ruling, the ... Court of Appeals threw out a December 2010 trial-court decision that struck down the health law's requirement that individuals carry health insurance or pay a penalty. ... The Fourth Circuit ruled Mr. Cuccinelli didn't have a legal right to bring his lawsuit. In a second case, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the insurance-mandate penalties amounted to taxes, which meant the court had no jurisdiction over the case. The appeals court said it wasn't permitted to consider a legal challenge that sought to restrain the government's assessment of taxes" (Kendall, 9/8).

Los Angeles Times: "The first decision overruled a Virginia judge who was the first to declare the healthcare law unconstitutional, and it threw out the suit brought by Virginia's Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli on the grounds that he had no standing to sue in the first place. But the second decision could change the brewing legal battle over the healthcare law, which appeared heading for a Supreme Court showdown early next year. Chief Judge Diana Gribbon Motz of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals pointed to the heretofore ignored federal law known as the Anti-Injunction Act which forbids taxpayers from challenging taxes in court prior to paying the tax" (Savage, 9/8).

The Washington Times: "Liberty University was appealing another judge's ruling upholding the law. The court said the university's lawsuit came too soon. 'We recognize ‘that Congress has imposed’ a potentially ‘harsh regime’ on some taxpayers,' Mrs. Motz wrote. 'However … the question of whether these concerns ‘merit consideration’ is a matter for Congress to weigh'" (Cunningham, 9/8). 

Bloomberg Businessweek: "The decision ... deepens a rift among the regional federal appeals courts, setting the stage for U.S. Supreme Court review. ... The U.S. calls the insurance mandate the linchpin of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, claiming that without expanding the pool of younger, healthier customers the insurance industry won’t be able to meet its obligations for coverage under the law. Absent the mandate, the health-insurance market will wither, the government said in court papers" (Schoenberg, 9/8).

The Washington Post: "The unanimous decision Thursday ... is the second appellate court ruling affirming the government's right to require individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. A federal appeals court in Cincinnati also upheld the law, but an appeals court in Atlanta struck down the insurance mandate. Two of the judges on the Virginia panel were appointed by Obama, the other by Bill Clinton. They rejected claims by the state's Republican attorney general and Liberty University that the insurance mandate is unconstitutional" (9/8).

Reuters: "The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by a lower court judge that the federal government could not compel people to buy health insurance, known as the individual mandate. Virginia had contended that this provision conflicted with a state statute, giving it standing to challenge the federal law. But the 4th Circuit disagreed, and directed the lower court to dismiss the case because it lacked jurisdiction" (Stempel, 9/8).

The Roanoke Times: In today's ruling, "the three-judge panel ruled that Virginia cannot challenge a provision of the federal law requiring individuals to carry health insurance simply because the General Assembly passed a state law prohibiting such a requirement" (Sluss, 9/8).

USA Today: "Virginia had argued that the federal law conflicted with state law, giving it standing to sue. A three-judge appeals court panel disagreed, and sent the case back to a lower court for dismissal. ... The issue is expected to be eventually resolved by the Supreme Court" (Jackson, 9/8).

The New York Times: "The Fourth Circuit is the third appellate court to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's central coverage provision. The other two have divided on the question of the law's constitutionality, making it likely that the matter will be settled by the United States Supreme Court. Ruling first, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled two-to-one in favor of the law. Then the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta ruled against the individual mandate portion of the law, also by two-to-one" (Sack, 9/8).

National Journal: "A federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the law's insurance mandate in June. The cases are widely expected to go to the Supreme Court" (Fox, 9/8). 

SCOTUSblog: The court ruled that the challenge to the "health care law requiring virtually everyone in the Nation to have health insurance by 2014 was filed prematurely, and thus cannot go forward. In a second ruling, the Circuit Court ruled that the state of Virginia had no legal right to bring a challenge to that mandate. The two rulings were a victory for the Obama Administration, but will not prevent the insurance mandate issue from Supreme Court review, since other cases are either now at the Court or on the way" (Denniston, 9/8).

MSNBC: "It's good news for the administration, because this is a rejection of the first case that, in dramatic fashion, brought a ruling that the health care overhaul was unconstitutional. But other cases remain active, including the lawsuit filed by 26 other states. So this issue has by no means gone away" (Williams, 9/8).

Kaiser Health News has an updated scoreboard tracking all of the health law court challenges.

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.