Virginia v. Sebelius is a federal lawsuit in which Virginia has challenged President Obama’s signature legislative initiative of health care reform. Virginia has sought declaratory and injunctive relief to vindicate a state statute declaring that no Virginia resident shall be required to buy health insurance. To defend this state law from the preemptive effect of federal law, Virginia has contended that the federal legislation’s individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitu-tional. Virginia’s lawsuit has been one of the most closely followed and politically salient federal cases in recent times. Yet the very features of the case that have contributed to its political salience also require its dismissal for lack of statutory subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has placed limits on statutory subject matter jurisdiction over declaratory judgment actions in which a state seeks a declaration that a state statute is not preempted by federal law—precisely the relief sought in Virginia v. Sebelius. These statutory limits are a sea wall; they keep out, on statutory grounds, some suits that should otherwise be kept out on Article III grounds. The statutory and constitutional limits on federal jurisdiction over suits like Virginia v. Sebelius insulate federal courts from the strong political forces surrounding lawsuits that follow from state statutes designed to create federal jurisdiction over constitutional challenges by states to federal law. This Article identifies previously neglected jurisdictional limits, shows why they demand dismissal of Virginia v. Sebelius, and explains why it is appropriate for federal courts to be closed to suits of this type.
The Ghost That Slayed the Mandate
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