A federal judge in Virginia answered one key question, and heard arguments on another, regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Virginia Federal District Court judge Henry E. Hudson said he would decide on the constitutionality of the individual mandate by years end, while lawyers for the state of Virginia, and for the Justice Department, argued over whether the rest of the law could survive if the mandate were voided.
The New York Times reports:
RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge said Monday that he would rule by the end of the year on the constitutionality of the new health care law, as lawyers for the Obama administration and the Commonwealth of Virginia debated whether the entire 2,700-page act should be invalidated if a key provision is struck down.
In a nearly three-hour hearing, a lawyer for the commonwealth argued that if Judge Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court finds unconstitutional the provision that requires Americans to have health insurance, he should declare the entire law void until the Supreme Court can review it. The lawyer noted that in writing the legislation, Congress failed to include “severability” language to specify that the rest of the law would survive.
The Justice Department concedes that some of the most essential insurance changes, including requiring insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions, will have to be scrapped if the coverage requirement loses in the courts. The administration maintains that the regulations can work only if everyone is required to have coverage, so people will not simply wait until they get sick to buy policies.
But the federal government’s lawyers argued on Monday that other provisions, like the vast expansion of Medicaid eligibility, could survive, and that the judge should keep the law in effect during the appeals process.
That this stage in the legal assault on the health law has arrived so quickly is striking, given that many prominent law professors dismissed the challenges as baseless only seven months ago, when the first of more than 15 lawsuits were filed.