Va. Responds to Motion to Dismiss Health Care Suit

June 8, 2010

Virginia on Monday disputed the Obama administration's claim that the state lacks standing to challenge the new federal health care reform law.

State Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli also said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is wrong in contending that the law is within the scope of the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

Sebelius is the defendant in Virginia's lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Richmond that challenges President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. The lawsuit cites a Virginia law taking effect July 1 that exempts state residents from being required to have health coverage.

In a motion to dismiss last month, Sebelius argued that states cannot simply pass a statute purporting to nullify a federal law.

But Cuccinelli said in court papers that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts can resolve competing claims of state and federal power.

"In the view of Secretary Sebelius, federalism is so withered and near death that states lack the power and right to go to federal court to test the validity of their own enactments when they conflict with federal law," Cuccinelli wrote. "The Supreme Court has never said this but has often said the opposite."

Cuccinelli also said the administration is attempting to expand the Commerce Clause far beyond what the Founding Fathers intended. He said the clause is intended to regulate the act of commerce, not inaction - in this case, decisions by individuals not to buy health insurance.

"That's an extraordinary reach by the United States in this bill," Cuccinelli told reporters in a conference call. "They have never used the Commerce Clause to try to get people to buy something."

The mandate for most U.S. residents to carry health insurance starting in 2014 is at the heart of the federal law's goal of medical coverage for all. Sebelius contends that because the law doesn't take effect until 2014, Virginia's lawsuit is not ripe for consideration. Cuccinelli disputed that claim as well, arguing that the state and federal laws are on a clear collision course.

A hearing on the motion to dismiss is set for July 1.

"I think Virginia's sovereign interests are quite strong in surviving the motion to dismiss," Cuccinelli said.

If U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson allows the case to move forward, it will be heard Oct. 18. Cuccinelli predicted the case ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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