The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a challenge to President Obama’s signature health law on Thursday, deciding that the plaintiffs in the case didn’t have standing to contest the legislation.
The three-judge panel determined that a lawsuit by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and challenging the health care law’s individual mandate should be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. In a separate ruling, the majority determined that a separate lawsuit by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University should not proceed as well. In previous hearings, judges had expressed skepticism that Virginia had the standing to challenge the mandate section of the bill given that it applied to individuals and not state institutions.
The Department of Justice praised the decision in a statement:
“We welcome the dismissal of these two challenges to the Affordable Care Act. We also continue to appreciate the rulings of other courts on the merits upholding the constitutionality of the Act. Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed as well. We will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it, and we believe we will prevail.”
In Cuccinelli’s case, the court decided that Virginia’s claim that they would be harmed by the mandate because it conflicts with a state law barring the state from requiring citizens to obtain health insurance was insufficient to show standing. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Diana Gribbon Motz suggested that if Cuccinelli’s suit were allowed to proceed, it could lead to an onslaught of politicized and frivolous legal challenges.
“Thus, if we were to adopt Virginia’s standing theory, each state could become a roving constitutional watchdog of sorts,” she wrote. “No issue, no matter how generalized or quintessentially political, would fall beyond a state’s power to litigate in federal court.”
In the Liberty University case, the majority ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act prevented the plaintiff from bringing forward the suit at this time. “Because this suit constitutes a pre-enforcement action seeking to restrain the assessment of a tax, the Anti-Injunction Act strips us of jurisdiction,” Justice Motz wrote. “Accordingly, we must vacate the judgment of the district court and remand the case with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.”
Judge Andre Davis wrote a dissenting opinion in the Liberty University ruling, writing that he would have accepted the case but determined the ACA’s individual mandate was constitutional.
All three judges in the case were appointed by Democrats, two by Obama.
Legal observers don’t expect the matter to be fully settled until the Supreme Court weighs in, perhaps next year.
Read the decision here.
This story has been updated.
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Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.