Lawsuits over Obama’s health care law heat up
Matt Sissel of Iowa City proudly served in Iraq as a combat medic. But he objects to being “conscripted” into an overhauled federal health care system.
The uninsured artist is riled about a provision in the new health law that would require him to purchase insurance or pay a penalty starting in 2014. Last July, he filed a lawsuit to have the landmark act declared unconstitutional. “I don’t want the federal government dictating my personal financial decisions,” says Sissel, 29. “It can’t even run its own budget.”
In attacking the law in the courts, Sissel has plenty of company. A number of interest groups, state officials and ordinary citizens are seeking to have the health care law struck down in federal court, and action is heating up:
•This week or next, a federal judge in Pensacola, Fla., is expected to issue a preliminary ruling on perhaps the most prominent lawsuit. Brought by the governors or attorneys general of 20 states, the lawsuit seeks to have the act declared unconstitutional.
•Any day, a judge in Michigan could act on a request by the Thomas More Law Center to issue an injunction blocking the government from taking any further action implementing the law. The non-profit law firm, based in Ann Arbor, often brings anti-abortion cases.
•On Oct. 18, the Republican attorney general of Virginia — who has compared the Obama administration’s regard for individual rights to the tyranny of King George — heads back to court for another round of hearings with a federal judge who recently turned down a Justice Department request to throw the case out.
The burst of litigation has the framers of the law and the Obama administration playing defense. Many scholars, such as Charles Fried of Harvard Law School, argue that the law is on firm legal footing. But there is no quick resolution in sight, and it may take a year or two, and a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, for all the lawsuits to get sorted out. Still, that might be a quicker route to upending the law, or parts of it, than a threatened GOP repeal effort in Congress. Even if Republicans pick up more seats in November, they’ll have a tough time getting major changes past President Obama.
Under the health care law enacted in March, more than 32 million additional Americans are expected to get insurance, either through an extension of Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor, or through exchanges where low- and moderate-income individuals and families can buy private insurance with federal subsidies.
The law’s ambitious sweep has made it a target for those who see it as an unjustified expansion of government. Plaintiffs challenging the law include a variety of religious groups, the nation’s largest small-business trade association, and a who’s who of conservative legal activism.
Sissel, for example, is represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based legal watchdog group that supports limited government, property rights and free enterprise.
Liberty University, the fundamentalist Lynchburg, Va., college founded by the late Jerry Falwell, has filed a lawsuit claiming that exemptions from the law for religious groups are too narrow and violate freedom of religion under the First Amendment. The Tucson-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which opposes government intervention in health care, also has sued.
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