By Melissa Nelson/The Associated Press
PENSACOLA, Fla. — Attorneys for 20 states fighting the new federal health care law told a judge Thursday it will expand the government’s powers in dangerous and unintended ways.
The states want U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson to issue a summary judgment throwing out the health care law without a full trial. They argue it violates people’s rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.
“The act would leave more constitutional damage in its wake than any other statute in our history,” David Rivkin, an attorney for the states, told Vinson.
President Barack Obama’s administration counters that Americans should not be allowed to opt out of the overhaul because everyone requires medical care. Government attorneys say the states do not have standing to challenge the law and want the case dismissed.
Vinson, who was appointed to the bench almost 30 years ago by President Ronald Reagan, heard arguments Thursday but said he will rule later.
In a separate case, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson earlier this week became the first federal judge to strike down a key portion of the law when he sided with the state of Virginia and ruled the insurance requirement unconstitutional. That case is likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement.
In Florida, Vinson questioned how the government could halt the massive changes to the nation’s health care system that have already begun. Rivkin told him the constitutional violations are more important.
The judge questioned the Obama administration attorneys about whether the government is reaching beyond its power to regulate interstate commerce by requiring citizens to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.
“A lot of people, myself included for years, have no health insurance,” said Vinson, who described being a law student and paying cash to the doctor who delivered his first child.
“It amounted to about $100 a pound,” he said, laughing.
Vinson also grilled government lawyers about their contention that people can be required to have health insurance because everyone needs medical care. Under that logic, he said, Americans could be forced to wear shoes or buy groceries or clothes.
But administration attorney Ian Heath Gershengorn said health insurance is different because it covers catastrophic injuries and chronic diseases.
“Those costs, when they come, are unpredictable and substantial,” he said.
Gershengorn also defended the administration against the states’ claim that it was coercing them into participating in the health care overhaul. The states say the have no choice but to go along with the federal program because billions in Medicaid dollars are at stake.
Gershengorn said the states see huge benefits from Medicaid and the federal government is covering the bulk of the health care overhaul costs.
The other states involved in the lawsuit are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.