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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Requiring people to buy insurance or face penalty, exceeds limits under Constitution’s Commerce Clause & tax powers.

A federal judge has refused to block a challenge to the Obama administration’s health care law brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The administration had asked the judge, Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court, to dismiss the challenge by Virginia’s attorney general, Ken T. Cuccinelli II.

Mr. Cuccinelli had argued that Congress, in passing a measure that requires people to buy insurance or face a penalty, exceeded its limits under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and tax powers. Mr. Cuccinelli had also argued that the federal law violated a state law, the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which declares that residents cannot be forced to buy health insurance.

Mr. Cuccinelli is one of 21 state officials fighting the health care law, and this is the first ruling by a federal court on the important question of whether states have the standing to sue.

Monday’s opinion does not address the merits of the health care law. It has no direct effect on the other state challenges, but it may influence the other judges.

In its briefs, the federal government argued that “this court would have to make new law and ignore decades of settled precedent” and “step beyond the proper role of the judiciary” to claim jurisdiction and block the legislation. Case after case has shown that the government’s powers to regulate interstate commerce and to create taxes reach far.

The federal government argued that Virginia had no standing to sue over the law, and that it had not stated a case it could win.

Judge Hudson, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, disagreed. In a 32-page opinion, he wrote that the law “radically changes the landscape of health insurance coverage in America.”

The case, he wrote, “raises a host of complex constitutional issues”; the notion that the government’s authority could include “the regulation of a person’s decision not to purchase a product” was new to the federal courts, the judge concluded, and so the state’s protest could not be dismissed outright.(Continues here at NYT)

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