TPM’s Guide To The Major Health Care Reform Lawsuits

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At the end of last week, a U.S. district court judge in Detroit issued the first ruling on the merits of health care reform, finding that one of the law’s key provisions — the insurance mandate — meets constitutional muster.

The news heartened the law’s supporters and the Obama administration, which will have to defend the law in a number of cases including — most famously, in a federal challenge brought by nearly two dozen states across the country. The constitutional challenges to the health care reform law fall generally into two categories. In the first, states claim that their own laws trump the federal law — an argument that legal experts consider to be almost a sure loser. The second argument is that the insurance mandate exceeds the power given to Congress in the Commerce Clause. That argument is less radical than the first, but is rooted in contemporary conservative legal philosophy that courts have occasionally validated in recent years, albeit under limited circumstances.

The wheels of justice are turning in several cases already, and it can be difficult to keep track of them all. Here are the basics.Florida v. Sebelius

Altogether 20 states have linked arms to fight the law. The plaintiffs are the Attorneys General of Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington, and the Governors of Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, and Georgia. They’re joined by the National Federation of Independent Businesses — a trade association that overwhelmingly favors the GOP. The suit was filed almost immediately after the legislation was enacted.

In addition to arguing against the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the plaintiffs are challenging the constitutionality of the law’s call for a Medicaid expansion and for states to build their own insurance exchanges. The provisions, they claim, constitute overreach and coercion by the federal government, and violate the Commerce Clause.

The judge in the case, Reagan appointee Roger Vinson, denied the Obama administration’s motion to dismiss the case last month, saying he will hear some, though not all, of the plaintiffs’ objections.

Virginia v. Cuccinelli

This case is the cornerstone of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s attempt to appeal to the far right in his state. Like the other Attorneys General, Cuccinelli is challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Cuccinelli, too, filed suit almost immediately after the bill became law.

The legislation, he argues, conflicts with the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which the state passed anticipating the passage of the law.

On August 2, district court judge Henry Hudson (a George W. Bush appointee) denied the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss the case, claiming that the law raises constitutional questions about Congress’ power to penalize people for refusing to participate in interstate commerce.

Oral arguments begin October 18.

Coons v. Geithner

Private citizens and legislators in Arizona are throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the law, arguing that the individual mandate, Medicaid expansion, newly-created Medicare panel (the Independent Payment Advisory Board), the exchanges, and any provision that preempts Arizona law violate the Constitution.

The suit also claims that the legislation violates the medical privacy of Nick Coons, the chief plaintiff. The complaint was filed on August, 12, and has been assigned to Judge G. Murray Snow, a George W. Bush appointee.

Seven-Sky v. Holder

Represented by Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, the plaintiffs in this suit claim that the individual mandate violates their religious beliefs by forcing them to enter the health insurance market.

The complaint was filed on June 9. Clinton appointee Gladys Kessler of the DC District Court has been assigned the case.

Thomas More v. Obama

The Thomas More Law Center, and other litigants who claim that the law contributes to the funding of abortion, unsuccessfully challenged the Constitutionality of the individual mandate. The case was dismissed by district court judge, and Clinton appointee, George Steeh in Detroit. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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