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Fed appeals court can decide health care legislation cases

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A federal statute that generally bars lawsuits challenging taxes before they are paid does not prohibit a federal appeals court from deciding two Virginia suits seeking to dismantle the Obama administration's health care overhaul, attorneys for all parties in the cases say.

The Justice Department, the Virginia attorney general's office and Liberty University took the same position in supplemental briefs filed this week with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court heard arguments in the cases May 10, then asked last week for additional briefs. Specifically, the judges asked whether the federal Anti-Injunction Act strips the court of jurisdiction to decide the lawsuits. The 1867 federal law says a tax can be challenged only after it is paid and the taxpayer unsuccessfully seeks a refund.

The question arose because the new health care law requires citizens to buy health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty. The Justice Department, citing the penalty provision, says the health care law is a valid exercise of congressional taxing authority, but the state and Liberty University argue that the penalty is not a tax.

Whether it is a tax or not, however, the parties agree that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply.

Justice Department lawyers unsuccessfully argued to the contrary in district court but said in their new brief that they've changed their minds.

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