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4th Circuit upholds Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, setting the stage for another possible Supreme Court battle next term.

The case involves a challenge by Liberty University, a Christian college that claimed the law violates the school’s religious rights by requiring it to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs. The university also claimed the requirement that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional.

A U.S. District Court judge in Virginia initially ruled that both provisions were constitutional, but the 4th Circuit vacated the ruling, holding that the court lacked authority under the Anti-Injunction Act to hear a challenge to the law’s constitutionality until the law was fully implemented in 2014.

The Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in another case in June 2012, but did not consider the employer mandate.

The court initially dismissed Liberty University’s claim after the ACA ruling but changed course in November. It sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for a decision on the employer mandate, which requires certain employers to maintain a minimum level of health insurance coverage for their employees.

“In sum … we affirm the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the 62-page opinion said.

The panel that decided the case consists of two Obama appointees — Judges Andre Davis and James Wynn — and Bill Clinton appointee Diana Motz.

On remand, Liberty also asked that the court consider the constitutionality of regulations implementing the ACA. The court expressly declined to do so, saying “to do so would require us to consider at this premature stage an argument that other appellate courts have before them in cases in which plaintiffs have properly pled the issue and a district court has addressed it. Indeed, several of our sister circuits are considering such cases, timely filed after the regulations at issue were promulgated.”

The case is Liberty University v. Lew, U.S. 4th No. 10-2347, decided July 11, 2013.

Kimberly Atkins of The Daily Record’s sister paper, Lawyers USA, and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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