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Associated Press, Published April 15 2010

Judge hears states’ lawsuit to overturn health bill

PENSACOLA, Fla. – A federal judge intends to fast-track a lawsuit by at least 18 states, including North Dakota, that seeks to overturn President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, he told attorneys Wednesday.

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 hour-long court session was the first hearing in the lawsuit that 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 they will amend the lawsuit 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 suit. Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada and North Dakota have since decided to join the suit.

The states claim the federal government cannot force citizens to buy health coverage. They also 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 tax payers,” he said.

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