Federal Court Throws Out Two Lawsuits on Health Reform Law

Opponents of President Obama’s health care reform act were dealt several blows yesterday by a federal appellate court in Richmond, Virginia.

The court threw out two lawsuits declaring that the plaintiffs in the case did not have standing to bring the lawsuits. The first suit was brought by Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli, who filed suit the same day the law was enacted. The second suit was filed by Liberty University, a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va.

In dismissing the Liberty University suit, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, writing for the three-judge panel, called the penalties for noncompliance with the “individual mandate” taxes. The question of whether the law’s penalties are in fact taxes is central to the question of the constitutionality of the bill.

Then, the other two judges on the panel went further in their writings and offered their opinions on the health reform act. The New York Times reports Judge James A. Wynn Jr. wrote in a concurring opinion that he would have upheld the act based on Congress’s authority under its taxing powers. Judge Andre M. Davis, in a dissenting opinion on jurisdiction, wrote that he would have upheld the mandate under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

Michael C. Dorf, a Cornell law professor, told the Washington Post, “[o]pponents of the law will probably benefit from the fact that they lost on standing grounds. Otherwise, the court might have been inclined to side with the administration on the merits and that would have been a much bigger victory.”

For those keeping score on the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act, the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has sided with the federal government and the 11th Circuit has invalidated the insurance mandate. Both were split opinions. A fifth lawsuit is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit this month. A ruling could come from the Supreme Court before the end of their term on June 30, 2012.