Appeals court shoots down Virginia's healthcare challenge

A federal appeals court on Thursday dismissed one of the highest-profile challenges to President Obama's healthcare reform law.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) does not have a legal right to sue over the law's requirement that most people buy insurance. The court vacated a lower court's ruling in the case and instructed the lower court to dismiss the suit.

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The Supreme Court is almost certain to have the final say on whether the coverage mandate is constitutional. Most legal observers expect the court to hear arguments during the term that begins in October, and rule in the summer of 2012.

The 4th Circuit’s long-awaited decision isn’t a huge surprise: those who attended oral arguments in the suits said the judges seemed skeptical of the mandate’s critics, especially Cuccinelli. All three of the judges who heard the case were appointed by Democratic presidents, and two were appointed by Obama.

The mandate has a mixed record in federal appeals courts. The 6th Circuit upheld the requirement in a June decision, while the 11th Circuit — which heard the high-profile challenge filed by 26 state attorneys general — ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional.

Unlike those 26 states, Cuccinelli sued on the grounds that enforcing the mandate would violate Virginia law. As Congress moved closer to passing healthcare reform, Virginia enacted a law that says state residents can’t be forced to purchase insurance.

But the 4th Circuit panel said Virginia does not have standing to sue over the mandate because it lacks a "personal stake" in the issue.

The judges seemed concerned during oral arguments that allowing his suit to proceed would essentially allow the states to exempt themselves from whatever federal laws they might choose.