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Virginia Asks High Court to Review Health Care Act

(CN) - The Virginia attorney general asked the Supreme Court on Tuesday to put an appeal of President Obama's health care law on the fast track toward resolution, rather than wait for a federal appeals court to weigh in.

On Dec. 13, a Virginia federal judge became the first to rule that a provision of health care reform that requires most Americans to buy health insurance was unconstitutional.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded by filing an appeal with the 4th Circuit a month later. Oral arguments in the case are tentatively scheduled for mid-May.

While parties in a lawsuit typically wait until an appeals court rules on their case to request a hearing before the Supreme Court, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli invoked Rule 11, a seldom-successful clause that permits such immediate review.

"There is a palpable consensus in this country that the question of PPACA's constitutionality must be and will be decided in this court," the petition states, using the acronym for Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. "Under these circumstances, the issues presented here should be considered to be at least as important as those presented in many of the cases where immediate review has been permitted under Rule 11 or its predecessors."

On Jan. 31, another federal judge, this time in Florida, also ruled that mandate section was unconstitutional, but found that the entire act had to be repealed.

"The decision of the Northern District of Florida striking down PPACA in its entirety has engendered further uncertainty," the petition continues. "This too heightens the need for expedited review."

About a dozen other courts, most recently in Mississippi, have dismissed suits over health care reform. Two judges, one of whom also presides in Virginia, have upheld the law.

"Given the importance of the issues at stake to the states and to the economy as a whole, this court should grant certiorari to resolve a matter of imperative public importance," the petition states.

A Justice Department spokeswoman countered that the courts should not stray from "the usual appellate route so that "the issues and arguments concerning the Affordable Care Act can be fully developed before the Supreme Court decides whether to consider it."

"Virginia's suit is based on a state statute that is not applicable nationwide," DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said in a statement.

Schmaler added that the challenged provision does not take effect until 2014, "so there is more than sufficient time for this case to proceed first in the court of appeals."

In an event at George Washington University last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Attorney General Cuccinelli's maneuver was unlikely to be successful, according to campus newspaper, the GW Hatchet.

"The court itself is a reactive institution," Ginsburg said, according to the Hatchet. "We don't decide, 'We better get this or that case sooner rather than later.'"

Ginsburg reportedly noted that there are few exceptions in which the court has culled appeals before they navigated the proper judicial avenues, such as a case involving the Pentagon Papers.

Such treatment is rare, however, because the court benefits from its consideration of lower court opinions, Ginsburg added, according to the Hatchet.

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