Attorneys general of New York, California, Connecticut and six other states will ask a U.S. appeals court to uphold a federal judge’s finding that President Barack Obama’s health-care reform legislation is constitutional.
The attorneys general for California, Oregon and Iowa said they and their six colleagues will file an appellate brief backing U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh’s Oct. 7 ruling in a lawsuit filed in Detroit by the Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“We will be working to defend the Constitution and the administration’s position,” Oregon Attorney General John Kroger told reporters today in a conference call. “I am 100 percent convinced that this bill is constitutional.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by Obama on March 23, bars insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick and from imposing lifetime limits on costs.
It also requires all citizens to obtain coverage beginning in 2014 or face a tax penalty. The mandate, plus expansion of the joint state and federal Medicaid program for the indigent, would bring health insurance to 32 million people by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Steeh’s ruling is one of two court decisions upholding the individual mandate portion of the act. U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon in Lynchburg, Virginia, rendered a similar decision on Nov. 30.
The Thomas More center has appealed Steeh’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Robert Muise, lead trial counsel for the group, in a telephone interview today found fault with the judge’s decision.
“He makes the point that there’s no precedent” for compelling action under the Constitution’s commerce clause, Muise said. “Yet he found that economic activity includes regulating economic decisions. There’s no precedent for that.”
The attorneys general for the states jointly filing the friend-of-the-court brief represent New York, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Oregon, Hawaii, Maryland and Delaware. All of them are Democrats.
Kroger, a former federal prosecutor, said he was cross-endorsed by the Republican Party when elected in 2008.
Kamala Harris, the recently elected attorney general for California, said the minimum coverage provision is “essential” to the legislation.
“The bottom line is undeniable,” Harris said. “We all require health care.” Eight million Californians lack health-care coverage, she said.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, the third participant in the teleconference, said Congress’s regulatory power is “well established.”
Muise, the Thomas More attorney, disagreed.
“There’s no precedent for that proposition and the attorneys general can’t create it,” he said. “This is more a political ploy than adding anything substantive to the legal arguments.”
U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond, Virginia, ruled Dec. 13 that the coverage mandate exceeds Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The Obama administration has appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond.
A fourth lawsuit, pressed by 26 states seeking to invalidate the health-care law, is before U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida. On Dec. 16, Vinson heard arguments from both sides over its constitutionality and said he would decide the case as quickly as possible.
Kroger said his coalition of attorneys general wasn’t committed to filing briefs in every case. “We will address those one by one,” he said.
Today, Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt filed a separate suit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the health-care legislation, according to an e-mailed statement. The complaint was filed in federal court in the state’s eastern district.
The lower-court case is Thomas More Law Center v. Obama, 10-cv-11156, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit). The appellate case is Thomas More Law Center v. Barack Obama, 10-2388, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Cincinnati).