Justice Department set to appeal healthcare ruling

WASHINGTON Tue Dec 14, 2010 2:27pm EST

President Barack Obama speaks before signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama speaks before signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington December 13, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department said on Tuesday it intends to appeal to a U.S. appeals court a ruling by a judge in Virginia declaring a key part of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare law unconstitutional.

Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the Virginia lawsuit at issue was one of a number of cases concerning the law pending before courts around the country, including four in which challenges were unsuccessful.

"Virginia's suit is based on a state statute that is not applicable nationwide, and the department believes this case should follow the ordinary course of allowing the courts of appeals to hear it first so the issues and arguments can be fully developed before the Supreme Court decides whether to consider it," she said in a statement.

Some Republican opponents have said the case should go next to the Supreme Court, bypassing the appeals court. By going through the appeals court, it could take more than a year for the issue to end up at the Supreme Court.

Schmaler said the provision at issue does not take effect until 2014. "So there is more than sufficient time for the courts to consider this case in their normal course of business," she said.

In his ruling on Monday, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson sided with the state of Virginia and held that Congress exceeded its authority by requiring Americans to start buying health insurance in 2014 or face a fine.

(Reporting by James Vicini, editing by Will Dunham)

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