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Oral arguments set for health-care suit as Va., feds have first court showdown

Rosalind Helderman

A federal judge Thursday morning set initial oral arguments in Virginia's landmark suit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health-care law for July 1 at 10 a.m.

Though today's pretrial conference in the Richmond courtroom of Judge Henry Hudson was brief, it offered the first opportunity for lawyers from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office and lawyers representing the Obama administration to meet in court.

And neither side risked being outmatched. Cuccinelli (R) was represented by three of his top staff attorneys, including Solicitor General E. Duncan Getchell Jr. Meanwhile, the feds brought in their whole five-attorney team for the hearing, including several who drove down from the District.

"I've never seen so much brain power here for a pretrial conference," Hudson cracked as the 10-minute scheduling meeting began.

During the conference, both sides agreed that the case is unlikely to involve evidentiary or discovery issues -- this case is purely a legal argument. Hudson said each side will be given an hour to present those arguments during the July 1 hearing, where he will be considering a motion from the Obama administration to dismiss the case.

Hudson could side with the federal government and dismiss the case, an outcome that could come as early as July or August and would mean that the health care law had survived its first legal test. At that point, Cuccinelli would undoubtedly appeal, sending the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, as it marches on a virtually certain path to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If Virginia's case survives after Hudson considers the motion to dismiss in July, it would remain in his Richmond courtroom a bit longer. A Hudson ruling in favor of Cuccinelli -- even merely to deny the federal request to dismiss the suit -- would probably bolster GOP contentions that the law is unconstitutional and cause significant ripples on the national scene. In that case, Cuccinelli would file a motion for summary judgment. Hudson said today that he would hear arguments on that motion, if needed, Oct. 18.

This timeline is significantly faster than the one that will govern the nation's other major suit against the health-care law, filed by 20 states and led by Florida. Virginia's suit is separate and will be heard first because it was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is known as the "rocket docket" for its speedy procedural rules.

Cuccinelli has argued that the federal government exceeded its authority under the Constitution by mandating that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine, a key component of the federal law. He said that a Virginia statute passed this year making such a mandate illegal in the commonwealth creates a conflict between state and federal law, and that he must defend state law.

In a response last week, the lawyers -- formally acting on behalf of Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius -- argued that Virginia has no standing to sue on behalf of individuals, who will not face the mandate until 2014. Additionally, they contended that Congress has the authority to pass the law because it has broad authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Hudson said Thursday that he will hear arguments about both issues in July.

The two sides agreed on one other issue: They are unlikely to settle this suit, on which the legacies of a president and an attorney general ride.

"I don't think I need to ask that question," Hudson said of the notion.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  June 3, 2010; 10:27 AM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Ken Cuccinelli , Rosalind Helderman  | Tags: Health care, cuccinelli, obama  
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Ku Ku Nellie needs to stop grandstanding, wasting time and tax payers dollars and address real issues in Virginia.

This guy is really exposing himself. How many people want to place bets that he does not get re-elected!

Posted by: Badger21 | June 3, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

While I am certainly no fan of the AG, Virginia's suit may, indeed, have merit. While there is ample precedent under the Commerce Clause to justify the regulation of activities involving "interstate commerce", this may be the first time the federal government has used the Commerce Clause to require individuals to purchase goods and services from a private-sector firm or face a penalty. Frankly, those who argue that there is no difference between a statutory requirement to purchase health insurance and that to purchase a Buick are right. In a larger sense, the Obama administration's attempt to find a "market-based" solution to health care may actually doom the current solution to failure. Universal health care provided by the government and funded through taxes would likely pass Constitutional muster -- the current "market-based" crap probably won't.

Posted by: virginia-locovore | June 3, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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