Tuesday, March 23, 2010

States sue to block health care law

Seven minutes after President Obama signed the health care bill into law, attorneys general from 13 states filed a lawsuit against the federal government asserting that the new law is unconstitutional.  From The Wall Street Journal:
The lawsuit was filed in Pensacola after the Democratic president signed the 10-year, $938 billion bill the House passed Sunday night. It was passed by the Senate in December. The House also passed a package of changes that the Senate is now considering. No Republicans in the U.S. House or Senate voted for the bill.

"The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health-care coverage,'' says the lawsuit.

Legal experts say the suit has little chance of succeeding because, under the U.S. Constitution, federal laws trump state laws.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is taking the lead and is joined by attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Colorado and Louisiana. All are Republicans except James Caldwell of Louisiana, a Democrat.
Virginia's attorney general filed a separate law suit claming that the new law is unconstitutional and in direct violation of a recently enacted Virginia law:
Virginia's attorney general on Tuesday made good on his promise to sue the federal government over health care overhaul legislation, saying the new law is unconstitutional because it requires people to purchase health insurance or face penalties.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argues the mandate exceeds the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce under the U.S. Constitution because being a Virginia resident in itself isn't a function or activity of commercial transaction, and thus people cannot be compelled to purchase goods or services.

"Requiring citizen-to-citizen subsidy or redistribution is contrary to the foundations of the constitutional compact," the complaint says.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Tuesday shortly after President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It names U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a defendant.

Cuccinelli argues that the court should declare that the federal health insurance mandate, which would take effect in 2014, as unconstitutional. Because the requirement is an essential provision of the overall law, "the entire act is likewise invalid," he says in the complaint.

Unlike attorneys general in 13 other states who filed a joint lawsuit against the new law, Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said Virginia filed a separate action because the federal legislation directly conflicts with the recently passed Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act. Of the 13 attorneys general, 12 are Republicans.

Virginia's law, which would take effect in July, says no resident can be compelled to carry health insurance, nor can they be forced to pay a fine or penalty for refusing such coverage. Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the law Wednesday.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of all state legislative actions which can be viewed here.

Much has been written about the constitutional arguments against the health care bill.  The Wall Street Journal had some insightful posts on its Law Blog back in September here and here.  My crystal ball tells me these lawsuits will not be resolved any time soon.

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