The 4th Circuit Appeals Court’s Circular Argument

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by Michael Maharrey (cross posted from

A federal appeals court unanimously struck down a Virginia challenge to the federal health care act Thursday, ruling that the state does not have standing in the case.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s decision declaring the Patient Protection and Affordable Car Act unconstitutional. The judges did not rule on the constitutionality of insurance mandates, but instead asserted that Virginia Health Care Freedom Act does not create a conflict allowing the state to challenge the PPACA in federal court.

Virginia brought suit on the basis that its statute clashed with the federal act, giving the state standing to challenge in federal court. Virginia’s case rested on the Tenth Amendment, arguing that the insurance mandate requirement, contrary to provisions in the state’s health care freedom act, represents an overreach of federal authority. Virginia argues that the federal individual mandate causes the state “sovereign injury.”

The Appeals Court ruled that a state can’t sue the federal government on behalf of its citizens. (Massachusetts v. Mellon 1923)

This prohibition rests on the recognition that a state poses no legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the government of the United States. With the respect to the federal government’s relationship to individual citizens, “It is the United States, and not the State, which represents [citizens] as parens patriae.” When a state brings suit seeking to protect individuals from a federal statute, it usurps this sovereign prerogative of the federal government and threatens the ‘general supremacy’ of the law.
The appellate judges concludes, “The individual mandate in the health care law does not affect Virginia’s ability to enforce VHCFA Rather, the Constitution itself withholds from Virginia the power to enforce VHCFA against the federal government.”

James Madison did not agree with the Court’s assessment. In fact, he said that a state has a duty to protect its citizens.

“In case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.”

Not one option among many. Not just a good idea. Duty Bound.

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