PENSACOLA, Fla. — A federal judge told attorneys Wednesday that he intends to fast track a lawsuit by at least 18 states that seeks to overturn President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
But filing deadlines and hearing dates set by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson at the scheduling conference could stretch into November depending on his rulings and the time taken by states and the U.S. Department of Justice to respond.
Wednesday’s hourlong court session was the first hearing in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Pensacola by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum minutes after Obama signed his 10-year, $938-billion health care bill into law.
Attorneys general from 12 other states joined McCollum. An attorney for the group said Wednesday the lawsuit will be changed before a May 14 deadline to add six additional states.
Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington joined the original lawsuit. Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and North Dakota since have decided to join the lawsuit.
Las Vegas lawyer Mark Hutchison, a former chairman of the Nevada Ethics Commission, was named by Gov. Jim Gibbons last week to file a lawsuit on behalf of the state to challenge the health care law.
Gibbons issued an executive order appointing Hutchison after Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto refused his request to file the lawsuit. Gibbons is a Republican and Masto a Democrat. Both are seeking re-election.
Masto also questioned Gibbons’ authority to have anyone other than the attorney general’s office represent him in the litigation.
Hutchison, who agreed to do the legal work for free, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The states contend the federal government cannot force citizens to buy health coverage. They argue the federal government is violating the Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing money to pay for it.
Ian Heath Gershengorn, an attorney for the Department of Justice, said the federal government will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the court does not have the jurisdictional authority to overturn the law.
“We feel there is a strong basis for a motion to dismiss,” he said.
Vinson set a Sept. 14 hearing to listen to arguments from both sides on that motion and set a tentative schedule that would move the case into late fall.
Vinson told the four attorneys in court for the states, the four attorneys in court for the Justice Department and other attorneys listening in via teleconference on Wednesday that his priority is ensuring the processes is both speedy and inexpensive for the millions of taxpayers represented by both sides.
“I want to remind everyone here that we are all either directly or indirectly working for the taxpayers,” he said.
Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel contributed to this report.