May 25, 2010
President Barack Obama's administration on Monday asked a federal judge in Virginia to dismiss the state's lawsuit alleging Congress overstepped its constitutional bounds with the new health care reform law.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius argued in a motion filed hours before a midnight deadline that the law is well within the scope of the Constitution's Commerce Clause.
Virginia's Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Richmond less than eight hours after Congress enacted the law. It argues that requiring people to buy health coverage or pay a fee exceeds federal powers limited by the Constitution's 10th Amendment.
More than a dozen state attorneys general have sued over the legislation on broadly similar grounds in cases that are likely be determined by the Supreme Court.
The conservative attorney general sued in defense of a Virginia law enacted this winter that exempts state residents from being required to have health coverage.
Sebelius argues in her dismissal motion, however, that Virginia lacks the standing to sue.
"A state cannot ... manufacture its own standing to challenge a federal law by simple expedient of passing a statute purporting to nullify it," read the motion. "Otherwise, a state could import almost any political or policy dispute into federal court by enacting its side of the argument into state law."
Sebelius also contends that the new law, passed solely by the ruling Democrats in Congress and signed by a Democratic president, is constitutional.
"Even if Virginia could surmount this jurisdictional barrier, its claim still would fail because Congress, in adopting the minimum coverage provision, acted well within its authority under the Commerce Clause," the motion says.
The mandate for most U.S. residents to carry health insurance starting in 2014 is at the heart of the federal law's goal of medical coverage for all. Without it, the Justice Department explains in the filing, the new law - and its efforts to contain costs - becomes moot.
"When accidents or illnesses inevitably occur, the uninsured still receive medical assistance, even if they cannot pay. As Congress documented, such uncompensated health care costs - $43 billion in 2008 - are passed on to the other participants in the health care market: the federal government, state and local governments, health care providers, insurers, and the insured population," the motion says.
But the "minimum coverage provision," more than any other act of Obama and the Democratic Congress, has stoked the angriest reactions, particularly by conservative tea party groups across the nation. For the federal government to tell individuals and families what they must purchase tramples a basic liberty, they argue.
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