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The Conservative Challenge to Obamacare

SCOTUS Takes Up Controversial Health Care Law

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The Conservative Challenge to Obamacare

The Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments

Alex Wong, Getty Images News
The State of Florida v. US Department of Health and Human Services is the main legal challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Obamacare. Dozens of other legal challenges were brought against the health care law by numerous religious organizations, colleges and universities, non-profit organizations, and individuals. However, only the Florida case has made it to the United States Supreme Court.

The Plaintiffs

There are a total of 26 states, as represented by each state’s Attorney General, included in the lawsuit against the federal government’s health care reform law. Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum filed the initial lawsuit challenging Obamacare. The states that joined with Florida in the lawsuit include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Additionally, the National Federation of Independent Business joined the Florida lawsuit as one of the original co-plaintiffs. A 27th state, Virginia, filed a separate lawsuit challenging the health care law. After making it through the district court level that lawsuit was dismissed at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Defendents

The US Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with carrying out the law, is the main defendant. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is President Obama’s signature legislation and the passage was viewed as very controversial as it was pushed through the US Congress using highly partisan maneuvering by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Congressional Democrats and President Obama wasted political capital through their methods and as a result saw the fortunes of “blue-dog Democrats,” supposedly conservative Democrats, be ousted en masse by tea party candidates later that same year.

Reasons for the Challenge

The states are challenging the federal government’s over-reach, claiming that US government has no authority or right to force states to pay for the exorbitant costs associated with enacting the new health care law. The plaintiffs argue that the law negatively impacts each state’s legislative agenda as it relates to health care matters as well as the general budgeting process, and is in direct conflict with the concept of federalism.

The centerpiece of the law being challenged revolves around the individual mandate, which forces individuals to purchase an approved health care plan or else pay a tax or fine. It is argued that the federal government does not have the right to levy a direct tax in such a manner. The individual mandate question asks whether the federal government has the right to force individuals to involuntarily take part in commerce. It would be the first time that the federal government as forced the purchase of a product, without initiating any action whatsoever. Many fear that if that precedent were set, the government could force any person to purchase anything at any time for any reason.

Quotes of Key Obamacare Challengers

The National Federation of Independent Business statement at the time of joining the Florida lawsuit: “Small business owners everywhere are rightfully concerned that the unconstitutional new mandates, countless rules and new taxes in the health care law will devastate their business and their ability to create jobs.”

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi following the lawsuit’s victory at the federal appeals level in 2011: "Today we have prevailed in preventing Congress from infringing on the individual liberty protected by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upholds our position that the federal health care law exceeds Congress' power."

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who had challenged Obamacare separately: “It is too much of an overreach from the power that the Constitution grants to Congress and the President. It's too far. Never before in history has the federal government ordered anyone to buy anything.”

Supreme Court Ruling

Ruling is pending and expected in June, 2012.

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