On Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson allowed Virginia's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new health care law to proceed. "We've won this round," Governor Bob McDonnell, R-Va., told the Associated Press. Out of approximately 24 cases challenging the health care law since it was signed by President Obama in March, this is the first to proceed.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) countered that Virginia lacks the legal standing to challenge the health care law and that any lawsuit is premature because the federal requirement to purchase health care won't take effect until 2014. "A state cannot ... manufacture its own standing to challenge a federal law by simple expedient of passing a statute purporting to nullify it. Otherwise, a state could import almost any political or policy dispute into federal court by enacting its side of the argument into state law," read a motion filed by the Obama administration.
The case questions the constitutionality of individual insurance mandates. Because the federal government covers partial costs of the uninsured, federal attorneys say Congress has authority to require them to get health coverage even if they don't want it.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also claims that government-mandated health care violates the Constitution's commerce clause, which gives Congress power to regulate interstate commerce. The state argues that a decision not to purchase a service is not an economic activity--it's the lack of it--and is therefore beyond the reach of Congress.
"Never before has the commerce clause ... been extended this far," Hudson wrote in his decision.
The DOJ responded that no person can simply choose to avoid participating in the health care market because everyone will eventually require medical care.
"This is nothing new. We saw this with the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act -- constitutional challenges were brought to all three of these monumental pieces of legislation, and all of those challenges failed," Stephanie Cutter, Obama's health spokeswoman, wrote on the White House Blog.