Liberty University's challenge of federal health-care law is dismissed

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 10:42 PM

RICHMOND - A federal judge in Virginia ruled Tuesday that the new health-care overhaul law is constitutional, dismissing a lawsuit filed by Liberty University in Lynchburg that had challenged the statute.

The case is among more than 15 suits filed against the federal health-care law, which most experts think will ultimately be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is separate from another lawsuit filed on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). A different federal judge in Richmond has already declined to dismiss that action and is weighing the law's constitutionality.

In its lawsuit, Liberty University argued that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority with a provision of the law that requires employers to offer health insurance if they employ more than 50 people. The suit was also filed on behalf of two individuals who object to the law's requirements that all individuals purchase insurance by 2014 or face a fine.

But U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton and sits in Lynchburg, ruled that the law falls within Congress's constitutional ability to regulate interstate trade.

In a 54-page opinion, Moon wrote that individuals who choose to go without insurance are nevertheless engaged in economic activity that can be regulated by Congress. That's because they will inevitably need health services when they are injured or get sick and the costs of that care will be borne by the rest of the health-care system.

"Regardless of whether one relies on an insurance policy, one's savings, or the backstop of free or reduced-cost emergency room services, one has made a choice regarding the method of payment for the health care services one expects to receive," he wrote.

Likewise, he wrote that Congress can force the university to offer insurance to its employees because its decision to offer insurance or not has "substantial effects cumulatively on interstate commerce."

Moon also rejected arguments from the Christian university that the law violates its religious rights because some money collected for insurance under the law's regulatory scheme might be used for abortion, which the school opposes.

He wrote that the claim was not plausible because the school had failed to establish how any of the law's required payments, fees or fines might be used to fund abortion.

Moon is the second federal judge to side with the Obama administration and reject claims that the law is unconstitutional. A judge in Michigan found the same in October.

"We are confident that this statute is constitutional and that we will prevail," Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said in a statement.

Liberty University has said it will appeal Moon's ruling

Mathew D. Staver, dean of Liberty's law school, said in a statement that he is confident the law will be struck down.

"Congress does not have the authority to force every American to purchase a particular kind of health insurance product," he said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company