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Lawsuits to undo key parts of health-care law move forward, so far

Challenges to the new health-care law have met with some sympathy in court. Twenty-one states argue it's unconstitutional to require individuals to buy health insurance, as the law requires. Here's a guide to the cases.

By Mike SacksContributor / September 29, 2010


President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23. Within minutes, 14 state attorneys general filed lawsuits in federal courts in Virginia and Florida challenging the constitutionality of the law's "individual mandate," which will require nearly every American to buy health insurance or face annual fines.

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Although the individual mandate doesn't kick in until 2014, legal challenges to the mandate have been met with some sympathy in court. As these cases move forward, it's worth taking another look at the suits.

Who is challenging the new law?

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are leading the states' charge against the health-care reform law.

Mr. McCollum's suit, State of Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, was filed in federal district court in Pensacola and joined by 12 other states via their attorneys general. In May, four states via their governors and three states via their attorneys general joined Florida's suit. Also joining the suit were the National Federation of Independent Business and two individuals from Florida and Washington State.

Mr. Cuccinelli's suit was filed on behalf of Virginia alone in US district court in Richmond. Cuccinelli, a Republican, has championed conservative causes since taking office in January.

On what grounds is the health-care law being challenged?

States in both cases primarily challenge the individual mandate's validity under the Constitution's Commerce Clause and the 10th Amendment.

Historically, federal courts have interpreted the Commerce Clause to enable Congress to regulate interstate economic activity or noneconomic activity that "substantially affects" interstate commerce. However, plaintiffs assert that Congress cannot direct its Commerce Clause power at one's inactivity. To them, the individual mandate does just that by forcing Americans to spend their money on insurance they may not want.

Further, the states claim that Congress is commandeering traditional state powers under the 10th Amendment, such as regulating intrastate insurance programs.