The Obama administration is striking a confident note as it prepares to defend its sweeping health-care program against constitutional challenges.
In a conference call with reporters today, senior White House officials said that the lawsuits filed Tuesday are "nothing new" in challenging congressional authority. They likened the lawsuits to those that tried, unsuccessfully, to strike down the Voting Rights Act and other major legislation.
“Similar constitutional challenges have been raised in the past,” one official said. “We’re confident that the recently passed health-care legislation will face a similar fate.”
Two lawsuits against the health-care law have been filed so far: one in the Northern District of Florida on behalf of 13 state attorneys general, and one in the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of that state’s attorney general. They argue that Congress is exceeding its constitutional authority in requiring individuals to buy insurance or face a penalty.
The administration officials, who spoke on condition that their names not be used, emphasized the wide latitude Congress has been granted under the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause. One precedent they cited: U.S. v. Southeastern Underwriters Association, a 1944 Supreme Court decision that allowed congressional regulation of insurance.
The officials also cited Gonzales v. Raich, a 2005 decision in which the Court ruled that Congress can regulate intrastate activity when failure to do so could “undercut” its regulation of interstate commerce. “The requirement that everyone have insurance,” one official said, “is essential to making those other requirements work,” such as non-discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.
Asked whether the administration might also invoke — as some have suggested it could — Congress’ authority to tax and spend, one official replied: “The Justice Department is going to make those decisions about how to litigate the case in the coming weeks.”