Health care law cases rejected by 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

September 9, 2011


A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out two challenges to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul on procedural grounds.

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 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. And the law’s opponents can play down the impact of the rulings, since the judges were all appointed by Democratic presidents — including two nominated by Obama.

The 4th Circuit issued by the side-by-side rulings in response to separate lawsuits brought by Virginia and the conservative Liberty University. Both cases challenged that the health law’s requirement that nearly all Americans have to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

The court said Virginia had no right to bring its lawsuit because “the sole provision challenged here — the individual mandate — imposes no obligations” on the state itself.

In the case of Liberty University, the court said the legal challenge had come too soon: “Because this suit constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax, the Anti-Injunction Act strips us of jurisdiction. Accordingly, we must vacate the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.”

The 4th Circuit is the first court to side with the administration’s legal argument that the mandate’s penalty is a tax.

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