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Top legal officials from 14 states across the country on Tuesday filed lawsuits challenging an overhaul of the U.S.’ $2.5 trillion healthcare system, minutes after President Barack Obama signed the landmark legislation.
One joint lawsuit by a dozen Republican attorneys general and a Democrat claims the sweeping reforms violate state-government rights in the U.S. Constitution and will force massive new spending on hard-pressed state governments.
Virginia went to court separately, while Missouri Republican Lieutenant Gov. Peter Kinder said he would like to join the suit.
The joint suit, led by Florida, was filed with a federal court in Pensacola, according to the office of Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.
The lawsuit says the law — which expands government health plans for the poor, imposes new taxes on the wealthy and requires insurers to cover people with preexisting medical conditions — violates the Constitution’s commerce clause by requiring nearly all Americans to buy health insurance.
“It forces people to do something — in the sense of buying a healthcare policy or paying a penalty, a tax or a fine — that simply the Constitution does not allow Congress to do,” McCollum said at a news conference in Tallahassee.
McCollum, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run for Florida governor, said the healthcare reforms would add $1.6 billion to Florida’s spending on the Medicaid health program for the poor.
The Justice Department, which is responsible for defending U.S. law in court, pledged to vigorously fight any challenges to the new healthcare law.
“We are confident that this statute is constitutional and we will prevail,” said Justice spokesman Charles Miller.
The White House agreed the suits would fail.
“There have been hearings about the constitutionality of the law, and I think there’s pretty much widespread agreement that it is constitutional,” Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, told Reuters Insider. “I think … we have governors who might be aiming for higher office who are starting to just send a message.”
According to Mark Rosen, a scholar at Chicago-Kent College of Law, the states do not really have much of a chance of prevailing. He said Congress clearly had authority under the Constitution’s supremacy clause to legislate reforms like the healthcare bill.
Virginia filed a separate suit attacking the healthcare reforms, arguing the new law’s requirements that most Americans buy health insurance clashed with a state law that exempts Virginians from federal fines to be imposed for not owning health insurance.
“The collision between the state and federal schemes also creates an immediate, actual controversy involving antagonistic assertions of right,” according to the suit filed by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican.
Missouri Lieutenant Gov Kinder, a Republican in a state with a Democratic governor and attorney general, called the law “the mother of all unfunded mandates,” adding the cost to the state remained to be seen.
Beyond raising Medicaid costs for Florida, McCollum argued in the 22-page lawsuit that the healthcare reforms added up to an unconstitutional power grab by the federal government that would force broad reorganization of state governments and massive hirings in order to comply with the new law.
The lawsuit asks the trial court to declare that the federal government is violating the sovereignty of the states and to bar federal agencies from enforcing the new law.
In addition to McCollum, the Republican attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington joined the suit.
James Caldwell, Louisiana’s Democratic attorney general, is also a plaintiff.