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Attorneys general in 14 states sue to block healthcare reform law

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Florida includes 13 states and charges that the new healthcare reform law in unconstitutional. Virginia's attorney general filed a separate lawsuit.

By Staff writer / March 23, 2010

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announces that he has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Treasury, and the Department of Labor, alleging the healthcare reform bill is unconstitutional, Tuesday, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Phil Coale/AP

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State attorneys general wasted no time filing legal challenges to President Obama’s healthcare reform law, swinging into action with legal filings in Florida and Virginia within minutes of the White House signing ceremony on Tuesday.

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In Tallahassee, Fla., 12 attorneys general joined Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in a 22-page complaint filed in federal court, charging that the new healthcare reform package exceeds Congress’s powers to regulate commerce, violates 10th Amendment protections of state sovereignty, and imposes an unconstitutional direct tax.

“This lawsuit should put the federal government on notice that Florida will not permit the constitutional rights of our citizens and the sovereignty of our state to be ignored or disregarded,” Attorney General McCollum said.

Healthcare 101: What the bill means to you

A second suit in Virginia

Virginia filed a similar lawsuit simultaneously in federal court in Richmond. That suit is slightly different in that it focuses in part on the clash between a recently enacted state law protecting the right of Virginia residents to refuse unwanted health insurance and the new federal law that imposes penalties on anyone who seeks to defy the national government’s command to purchase health insurance.

“Congress lacks the political will to fund comprehensive health care … because taxes above those already provided [in federal healthcare programs] would produce too much opposition,” the Virginia lawsuit says.

“The alternative, which was also a centerpiece of the failed Clinton administration health care proposal, is to fund universal health care in part by making healthy young adults and other rationally uninsured individuals cross-subsidize older and less healthy citizens,” the suit says.

The seven-page lawsuit presents a straightforward challenge to Congress’s decision to rely on its power to regulate interstate commerce to justify the federal mandate that every individual must have health insurance or pay a penalty.

“It has never been held that the Commerce Clause [of the Constitution] … can be used to require citizens to buy goods and services,” the suit says. “To depart from that history to permit the national government to require the purchase of goods and services would deprive the Commerce Clause of any effective limits.”

Aiming for the US Supreme Court

At a press conference in Florida, McCollum said his lawsuit is intended to move through the courts to the US Supreme Court. “I am confident the court is going to declare the new healthcare law unconstitutional,” he said.

Democratic leaders have downplayed any potential legal problems with the healthcare reform package. Many legal analysts agree with them. Others suggest the issue is open and could produce a landmark decision if the high court decides to take it up.

In addition to Florida, participating plaintiffs in the lawsuit include attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Idaho, and South Dakota. The suing attorneys general are Republicans except James "Buddy" Caldwell of Louisiana, who is a Democrat.

The Florida-filed lawsuit identifies two victims. It says the new law infringes the liberty of individual state residents to choose for themselves whether to have health insurance. It also says the states themselves are victims of a federal power grab by leaders in Washington.

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