By JENNIFER HABERKORN | 1/21/11 3:31 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi are backing the federal government’s argument in court that Congress had the constitutional authority to write the health reform law.
The Democratic leaders, as well as 21 other Democratic lawmakers, said the reform law “tests no limits and approaches no slippery slope,” in a court brief filed Friday.
The Thomas More Law Center, a conservative public interest law firm in Michigan, is asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an October ruling that the health reform law is constitutional. The group argues that the law’s requirement that nearly all Americans buy insurance is unconstitutional and if upheld, could allow Congress to force people to do other things.
“Congress never has required Americans to exercise or eat certain foods – and in our view it never would,” Reid, Pelosi and the other lawmakers wrote in their brief.
The Thomas More case is just one of about two dozen lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of health reform. But it’s the first case to reach the circuit court level, raising its profile.
Nine Democratic attorney generals, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, the state of Oregon, several hospital and health industry groups and many pro-reform consumer groups have said they plan to file “friend of the court” briefs.
Democrats are defending the health reform law, President Obama’s signature domestic policy accomplishment, on multiple fronts. This week, House Republicans voted to repeal the law, but Senate Democrats have pledged to block the legislation in the upper chamber.
The lawmakers argue that Congress is the proper branch to decide how health insurance should be regulated – not the courts.
The “disagreement with the manner Congress has chosen to regulate two related and important national markets is an occasion for political debate, not a matter for judicial imposition,” they wrote in the brief. Americans who disagree with the law “may address them in the proper, democratic forum.”
The Democratic attorney generals said Friday that they have formed a coalition to defend the constitutionality of the law in this and other cases. They represent Oregon, Iowa, California, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Delaware.
“I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution three times in my life,” Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said on a conference call with reporters. “I am 100 percent convinced that this bill is constitutional.”
Twenty-six other states, most represented by attorneys general, have filed a separate lawsuit in Florida challenging health reform.
Most of the health reform lawsuits argue that Congress has no constitutional authority to require that nearly all Americans purchase insurance coverage.
So far, two federal district court judges have upheld the law and one, Virginia Judge Henry E. Hudson, has declared the so-called individual mandate unconstitutional. A dozen other cases have been thrown out on procedural grounds.
Florida Judge Roger Vinson hasn’t ruled yet on the most high-profile case, in which 26 states have sued the federal government over the mandate. He heard oral arguments last month.
Oral arguments in the Thomas More appeal case have not yet been scheduled.
The Democrats on the amicus brief are: Sens. Dick Durbin, Charles Schumer, Patty Murray, Max Baucus, Tom Harkin, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Mikulski, John D. Rockefeller, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, James E. Clyburn, John Larson, Xavier Becerra, John D. Dingell, Henry A. Waxman, Frank Pallone, Jr., Sander M. Levin, Pete Stark, George Miller, Robert E. Andrews, John Conyers, Jr. and Jerrold Nadler.
Republican Reps. Michelle Bachmann, Dan Burton, Mike Conaway, Lynn Jenkins, Dan Lungren, Tom McClintock, Ron Paul, Ted Poe, Cathy McMorris Rogers, Jean Schmidt and Todd Tiahrt filed a brief in support of Thomas More last month. Several legal groups filed in support of Thomas More as well.