Updated at 2:58 p.m.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday rejected Virginia's high-profile challenge to President Obama’s health care overhaul.
The appellate court in Richmond, Va., said the commonwealth has no authority to dispute the law's requirement for almost all U.S. citizens to purchase insurance, telling the district court to dismiss the case. Virginia had argued that the provision—known as the individual mandate—was in conflict with a state law, allowing it to challenge the federal statute.
Virginia filed its challenge on March 23, 2010, the day the federal Affordable Care Act became law. The next day, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed into law the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which said residents of the commonwealth cannot be forced to obtain health insurance.
The 4th Circuit found that the Virginia law “does nothing more than announce an unenforceable policy goal of protecting Virginia’s residents from federal insurance requirements.”
“[T]he only apparent function of the VHCFA is to declare Virginia's opposition to a federal insurance mandate,” the appellate panel said. “And, in fact, the timing of the VHCFA, along with the statements accompanying its passage, make clear that Virginia officials enacted the statute for precisely this declaratory purpose.”
Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli said he was unhappy with the 4th Circuit’s decision and would mount an appeal.
"Not only does the court's opinion reject the role of the states envisioned by the Constitution, it dismisses an act of the Virginia General Assembly—the Health Care Freedom Act—as a mere pretense or pretext,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the court would be so dismissive of a piece of legislation that passed both houses of a divided legislature by overwhelming margins with broad, bipartisan support.”
The appellate court on Thursday also rejected a challenge to the individual mandate brought by Liberty University, directing the lower court to dismiss that case as well.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld the individual mandate in late June. But six weeks later, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional.
The Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit public interest law firm, filed the appeal in the 6th Circuit on behalf of itself and several uninsured individuals. A group of 26 states, small business owners and other individuals brought the appeal in the 11th Circuit.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear one of the challenges to the health care law during its next session, which begins in October.