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AUDIO: Oral arguments from two cases trying to topple Affordable Care Act

On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., heard oral arguments for two lawsuits that represent the first major challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009.

On the day Obama signed the health care bill into law — March 23, 2010 — Liberty University, represented by its partner institution Liberty Counsel, filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Timothy Geithner, secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department; Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary; Hilda L. Solis; Labor Department secretary; and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., for allegedly violating constitutional rights by implementing individual and employer mandates. After failing in district court, Liberty University has appealed (PDF) the case.

Listen to Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, argue before a three-judge panel.

Oral arguments for Liberty University, Inc. v. Timothy Geithner:

Also on March 23, 2010, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli sued Sebelius, challenging the health care act’s individual mandate. On Tuesday, Cuccinelli also appealed to the panel. Both Cuccinelli and Liberty hope their cases will reach the U.S. Supreme Court by year’s end.

Listen to oral arguments for Commonwealth of Virginia, Ex Rel. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II v. Kathleen Sebelius:

“Today we took Step Two in a three-step process,” said Cuccinelli in a news conference following the arguments. “As Judge Motz noted, the legal questions raised today are questions that will be answered in another court in another time.”

Cuccinelli offered an overview of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s case during the news conference:

Virginia has argued that the mandate that every person must buy government-approved health insurance violates the Constitution. Using the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to force people to buy a product goes beyond Congress’s power. This is why I have said all along that this is about liberty, not health care. The insurance mandate penalizes people for not engaging in commerce. In other words, you can get fined for doing nothing.

Virginia has also argued that the penalty the government wants to charge if you do not buy health insurance is not a tax. The government cannot start calling the penalty a tax to try to make it legal under Congress’s taxing authority. Congress and the president passed it as a penalty, not a tax; it works as a penalty, not as a tax.

[...]

If we cross this constitutional line with health care now – where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it is for our own good – then we will have given the government the power to force us to buy other private products, such as cars, gym memberships, or even asparagus. The government’s power to intrude on our lives for our own good will be virtually unlimited.

[...]

You heard about standing today. The federal government thinks it can tell the states to disregard their own laws – like it is doing with Arizona, but then also says the states do not have the same right to challenge federal laws in court. That is not how our system of government is set up. The founders set it up so the states were a check on potentially overreaching federal authority.

I have said all along that this lawsuit is not about health care. It is about liberty. At the same time, I understand that people want more affordable health care, and I sympathize with people who honestly cannot afford it. As a state senator, that was a problem I tried to address by trying to pass a law to allow our citizens to buy better or cheaper plans in other states. But as someone who has sworn to uphold the law, I cannot endorse taking away the rights of all so that government can provide health care to some.

When a ruling will be issued from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is unknown. All three judges were appointed by Presidents Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. The panels are chosen randomly.

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