* Supreme Court last granted such a request in 2002
* Virginia wants entire healthcare law scrapped
(Adds Justice Department, Congress, background)
By James Vicini and Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON, Feb 3 Virginia said on Thursday it
will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its challenge to
President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, bypassing the
appeals process in a rarely used move to try to speed up a
definitive ruling on the year-old law.
The Obama administration opposed the move and said the case
should follow the regular process, which could put off until
2012 a Supreme Court ruling on the sweeping law that aims to
provide more than 30 million uninsured Americans with medical
coverage and cracks down on unpopular insurance industry
It was unclear whether the Supreme Court, which typically
prefers that cases go though the appeals court first, would
grant the request. The last time it agreed to such a request
was in 2002 in a case on using race in university admissions.
Virginia, with a conservative Republican governor and
attorney general, wants the entire law scrapped and contends a
federal judge in Virginia erred in not striking down the full
law which has been championed by Obama, a Democrat, and opposed
by most Republicans.
The Obama administration's Justice Department has appealed
the ruling as well, contending the law is constitutional.
A federal judge in Florida earlier this week struck down
the entire law, ruling its requirement that Americans buy
health insurance was unconstitutional. [ID:nN01141665]
The federal judge in Virginia in December also ruled the
requirement was unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by the
state, but he declined to issue an injunction against the
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said the states
need an immediate decision by the Supreme Court.
Because of uncertainty caused by the divergent rulings,
Cuccinelli said, "We feel that it is necessary to seek
resolution of this issue as quickly as possible."
Ramifications of the new law for the health sector have
been widespread, affecting Aetna Inc (AET.N) , WellPoint Inc
WLP.N and other health insurers as well as drugmakers, device
companies and hospitals.
States, struggling to balance their books in the aftermath
of the recession, face higher costs for the Medicaid health
program for the poor under the law.
Polls show public opinion is mixed on the healthcare
overhaul, and Republican promises during the 2010 midterm
elections to repeal it helped them score huge gains and control
of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said because
the U.S. appeals court will hear arguments in the case in May,
there is no need to take it directly to the Supreme Court.
Both the Florida and Virginia judges said Congress
overstepped its authority in requiring that Americans start
buying health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty. Two other
federal judges have upheld the law.
Twenty-six of the 50 states have signed onto the Florida
suit. Virginia filed separately because it had passed a state
statute just before the law passed last March barring the
federal government from requiring its citizens to have health
"Virginia's suit is based on a state statute that is not
applicable nationwide," said Schmaler. "The individual
responsibility provision does not go into effect until 2014, so
there is more than sufficient time for this case to proceed
first in the court of appeals."
Since the first suit was filed within hours of Obama
signing the healthcare act into law, legal scholars have said
the matter will eventually reach the Supreme Court. Still, most
states have started implementing the law, worried they will
fall behind key deadlines if it is upheld.
"Currently, state governments and private businesses are
being forced to expend enormous amounts of resources to prepare
to implement a law that, in the end, may be declared
unconstitutional," Cuccinelli said.
"Regardless of whether you believe the law is
constitutional or not, we should all agree that a prompt
resolution of this issue is in everyone's best interest," he
Democrats have used the effort to kill to law to try to
highlight its more politically popular aspects, particularly
provisions that allow young adults to stay on their parents'
health insurance until age 26 and added prescription drug
benefits for the elderly.
On Wednesday, Obama's fellow Democrats in the U.S. Senate
blocked a Republican bid to repeal the healthcare overhaul. The
Republican-led House of Representatives, in keeping a campaign
vow, had voted to repeal it last month. [ID:nN02107914]
(Editing by Vicki Allen)