WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than half of all U.S. states have launched lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reforms signed into law by President Barack Obama a year ago.
Most legal scholars expect one of the suits to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, but not until its 2011-12 term that begins in October. Individuals, advocacy groups and hospitals have also sued.
The following are details of the current state of legal challenges to the law:
LAWSUITS MOST LIKELY TO REACH THE SUPREME COURT
* The Supreme Court on Monday refused to speed up a definitive ruling on the law in a suit brought by the state of Virginia, saying the state’s challenge must go through the typical appeals process. A U.S. appeals court in Richmond will hear oral arguments on May 10 challenging the recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson that the federal government could not compel a person to buy health insurance. In a twist, both the federal government and the state of Virginia appealed Hudson’s decision. Virginia says the judge erred by not throwing out the entire law. Hudson said the penalty charged for not having health insurance is not a tax, shooting down the federal government’s argument that it is based on its power to levy taxes.
* In a lawsuit filed by more than half the states and led by Florida, Judge Roger Vinson said the requirement that individuals buy health insurance is unconstitutional. A U.S. appeals court will hear arguments in early June in Atlanta. While Vinson said the entire health care law “must be declared void” because the requirement is inextricably linked to other parts of law, he put his decision on hold pending appeal.
* Another appeal, in a lawsuit filed by Liberty University, the college founded by conservative evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, will also be heard by the Virginia court on May 10. In November, a federal judge ruled the individual mandate and a requirement some employers buy coverage for employees was legal under the Commerce Clause. The judge also said the law did not illegally permit federal funding for abortion.
* In June, a U.S. appeals court in Cincinnati will hear an appeal in one of the first suits, filed by Michigan’s Thomas More Law Center. Last October, a federal judge partly dismissed the suit, ruling Congress had the authority to enact the law under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.
* In April, the U.S. District Court in New Jersey decided two individuals who said they represented “we the people” and the “citizens of the state of New Jersey,” did not have any standing to sue, primarily because they could not establish they had been harmed by the law. The suit had said the law is illegal because it originated in the Senate, which cannot create revenue-raising measures on its own, and is unconstitutional because Obama is ineligible to hold the office of president. The court had already dismissed on December 9 a lawsuit filed by a cardiologist, a patient and a physicians’ advocacy organization that had alleged the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause and the Fifth Amendment.
* A California federal court dismissed a lawsuit, now before the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court, that said the healthcare law violates individual rights, increases taxes and violates physician-patient privileges, along with violating the Commerce Clause.
* In November, U.S. District Court Judge David Dowd partially denied and partially granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Citizen’s Association in Ohio. While he dismissed arguments that the law violates freedom of association, due process and privacy protections, Dowd is considering arguments that the law exceeds federal authority granted by the Commerce Clause.
* At least 24 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts by states and private parties. One suit, Shreeve vs. Obama, was filed by a group of approximately 25,000 individuals and entities.
WHAT IS AT ISSUE?
* States like Virginia have passed, or are considering, legislation declaring the healthcare law cannot be enforced in their states. State legislators in Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming have introduced bills that establish penalties, including fines and jail time, for any agent seeking to enforce the healthcare law within their states’ borders. North Dakota’s legislature passed a “nullification” bill in April authorizing it to enact any measure necessary to prevent enforcement of the law.
* The states’ main concern is that the law permits the federal government to force people to buy things, in this case requiring that all Americans purchase health insurance or pay a penalty under the “individual mandate.” The federal government counters that everyone will inevitably pay for healthcare, whether through insurance or during an emergency, and that without the individual mandate, premiums will rise.
* If the courts decide the individual mandate is unconstitutional, it is unclear if the mandate can be cut away from the law while leaving the other requirements intact. The states say that without the individual mandate the law is rendered toothless.
* Parts of the U.S. Constitution that have come into play are the Commerce Clause, which regulates commerce among states, the Supremacy Clause, which makes federal power supreme to states’ power, and the 10th Amendment, which leaves to states all powers not explicitly granted to the federal government.
* Some of the suits also focus on whether abortions are funded with taxpayer dollars under the law.
* When Obama lobbied for the bill, he said there would not be a new tax associated with the individual mandate requiring coverage. The penalty for not having health insurance, though, is collected through tax filings and the federal government argues the fine is indeed a tax it is empowered to levy. States say the U.S. government does not have the authority to charge the fine and point to the discrepancy between Obama’s statements and the U.S. government’s arguments.
SOURCES: Court documents, governors’ offices, Pacific Legal Foundation
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