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The House May Be A Mess, But It Keeps Winning In Federal Court

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 20/10/2015 Cristian Farias
ATHENA IMAGE © Astrid Riecken via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

There's no stopping the House of Representatives in federal court.

A federal judge on Monday declined an Obama administration request to allow it to appeal a controversial September ruling that allowed a House lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act to move forward.

That decision raised eyebrows among legal experts because it granted the House "standing" to sue the executive branch in federal court -- a precedent that may open the door to other legal confrontations among the different branches of government.

But since that issue is only preliminary, because it deals with whether the House can sue to begin with -- as opposed to the merits of the case, which will be decided later -- the federal government needed permission from the judge who issued it to appeal.

In a three-page order, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer said no, and in the process rejected the Obama administration's argument that her prior ruling was erroneous.

"The relevant question is whether immediate appeal would materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation," Collyer wrote. "In this case, it would not."

The judge attempted to distinguish the House lawsuit from other kinds of civil litigation -- where legal wrangling between the parties often is protracted for "months or even years" -- and noted this case was "suited for summary disposition" because "the facts are not in dispute."

To illustrate her point, Collyer set a briefing schedule to last through January to allow the parties to present their cases in writing, after which she'll hold a hearing and rule shortly thereafter. A health care expert predicted a decision in March or April.

In its lawsuit, the House contends that the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies violated Congress's "power of the purse" by drawing billions of dollars from existing appropriations to fund the health care law's cost-sharing provisions, which spare people well beneath the poverty level from high deductibles and certain out-of-pocket expenses. 

When Collyer first ruled for the House and allowed its suit to proceed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed invigorated.

"I am grateful to the Court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law," Boehner said in a statement. "The House will continue our effort to ensure the separation of powers in our democratic system remains clear, as the Framers intended."

A number of legal observers have said they expect the question of "standing" to sue -- which the Obama administration insists should lead to a dismissal of this case --  to reach the Supreme Court. The justices in the past have been deeply skeptical of allowing lawmakers to sue.

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