Virginia launched its own legal attack on the new federal health care reform law. The Virginia Solicitor General argued in a Richmond federal court that Congress exceeded its Constitutional powers by requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. He argued that never in history has the federal government required citizens to buy a private product like health insurance.
The US Justice Department responded that the state of Virginia had no legal right to challenge the federal law. Because the mandatory insurance provision affects individuals, the Justice Department argued that only individuals, not the state, could bring legal action to block it.
Virginia claims it had to file the lawsuit because its legislators passed a state law making it illegal to force residents to buy health insurance. The judge in the case said he’d decide within 30 days whether to let Virginia continue its lawsuit.
The US Department of Justice asked a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by state attorney generals on behalf of Florida and nineteen other states opposing the new federal health care reform law. It argued the law was a proper exercise of the constitutional powers of Congress to impose taxes and regulate interstate commerce.
The Justice Department also argued the states’ lawsuit should be dismissed as premature. The health care law requiring individuals to maintain a minimum level of health insurance doesn’t take effect until 2014. Since the effective date was several years away, its effects couldn’t be determined yet.
For over a year, the debate over the "Health Care Reform Bill" dominated the halls of Congress, the news channels, and probably many living rooms in US homes. Its main goals: To make radical changes to the insurance and health care industries and provide insurance coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans.
Finally, the controversial bill was signed into law on March 23, 2010. It didn’t stop the controversy, though.
Some States Battle On
During the year-long debate, especially in the final days before the US House of Representatives passed the bill, there were reports that some state attorneys general didn't like the law and would challenge in court if it was passed.
Some of them weren't just making threats. They filed lawsuits on the same day President Obama signed the law.
Florida and Others
Florida filed its lawsuit in federal district court in Panama City. Rather than file their own lawsuits, the attorneys general of 12 states joined the Florida suit: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
The lawsuit's main argument: The US Constitution doesn't authorize the federal government to force Americans and others in the US, such as legal permanent residents (LPRs), to buy and keep health insurance. That's perhaps the most important part of the health care reform law.
The suit also claims the law violates the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution by requiring the states to pay more money towards providing health care services within the state - extra money the states simply don't have in these harsh economic times. (In simple terms, the 10th Amendment gives the states power to regulate and govern their own affairs).
The suit also challenges provisions in the new law giving some states more money than others to help pay the rising costs of Medicaid.
The attorney general of Virginia filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in Richmond, Virginia. This lawsuit claims, among other things, the law's requirement that Virginians buy and keep health insurance violates a new state law passed in 2010. Under that law, no resident of Virginia can be made or forced to buy or keep health insurance.
Some states aren't suing the US over the new law, and that's causing internal problems. For example, Thurbert Baker, the Attorney General of Georgia, won't file a lawsuit even though the state's Governor, Sonny Perdue has asked him to. The attorney general doesn't think there's any chance of winning such a lawsuit.
The governor, on the other hand, has said he'll ''go it alone'' and file a lawsuit on his own, if necessary.
It's a good question, and that's why we have courts. Both sides have good arguments. The key is the "Commerce Clause" in Article I, § 8 of the US Constitution. In plain terms, it gives the US Congress the power "to regulate commerce." So, once you, me, or an insurance company "engages in commerce" - such as by selling something to the public at large - the federal government can pass laws to regulate and control that activity.
The main counter-argument is the "Commerce Clause" doesn't give the federal government the power to force any citizen to buy anything, much less insurance for your personal well-being and health.
Whether you're a fan or critic of the new health care law, make your voice heard. Let your state law makers know how you feel about the law, especially your governor and attorney general. If you don't speak up, the law may or may not go into effect in your state.
Questions For Your Attorney
- As an everyday citizen and taxpayer, can I file a lawsuit against the new health care law?
- If businesses can be forced to buy worker's compensation insurance, why can't companies and individuals be forced to buy health insurance?
- Is there some legal way we can force our state attorney general to file a lawsuit to challenge the health care law?