Health-care reform: Battleground shifts to Florida courtroom
The legal battle over health-care reform is destined for the Supreme Court, analysts say. On Thursday a US district judge in Florida hears arguments in a case brought by 20 states.
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Both sides in the case have been granted one hour for argument. The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m. in Judge Vinson’s Pensacola, Fla., courtroom.Skip to next paragraph
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Although the arguments relate to a modern health-care reform law passed this year, the lawyers’ presentations also echo larger themes dating to the 1930s and 1940s and the New Deal.
Ultimately, the litigation is being fought-out on a 60-year-old battleground over the expansion of federal power at the expense of the states.
Since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has generally adopted an expansive view of Congress’s power to pass new laws under the commerce clause. Within the past 15 years, the high court cut back on congressional authority in a handful of cases.
Direction of court unclear
But that trend may have ended with the retirement of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It is unclear how the current lineup of justices may rule should the health-care law arrive at the Supreme Court.
Some analysts predict it could be a close case, with Justice Anthony Kennedy potentially casting the deciding vote. But others say existing precedents favor the high court endorsing an expansive approach to legislative power under the commerce clause.
In his brief to Judge Vinson, Mr. McCollum argues that the Constitution provides for a federal government of limited powers. All power not assigned to the federal government is retained by the states and the people.
McCollum says if the courts uphold congressional power to order Americans to purchase private products, it will render federal authority limitless.
He says Congress and the Obama administration went off the constitutional rails when they sought to order Americans who don’t have health insurance to buy it or face a penalty.
Congress had the power under the commerce clause to regulate economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce, he said. But the individual mandate seeks to regulate inactivity – not activity.
“Activity is the key in all the relevant case law,” McCollum writes in his brief.
“The commerce power permits Congress only to regulate the activities of individuals who already are in a particular market or engaged in activity that is subject to federal regulation,” he said.
Government lawyers counter in their brief that the Supreme Court has upheld a view of commerce clause power that permitted Congress to pass laws that are an essential part of a larger regulatory scheme. The health-care reform effort is such a scheme, and the individual mandate is essential to a national reform of health insurance, they said.
The government rejects the claim that individuals without health insurance are inactive. Those without health insurance will eventually need it, the government says, and by choosing not to enter the market they have undertaken an economic activity that Congress may regulate.
“Plaintiffs’ approach revives the type of categorical demarcation of Congress’s commerce powers that the Supreme Court abandoned in the 1930s,” the government brief said. It added that the states are arguing for an exclusion that appears nowhere in commerce clause jurisprudence.
“No case – ever – has imposed such a limitation on Congress’s power to ameliorate substantial adverse effects on interstate commerce,” the government’s brief said.