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13 attorneys general sue on health care bill

Attorney General Bill McCollum of Florida is taking the lead in the health bill suit. Attorney General Bill McCollum of Florida is taking the lead in the health bill suit. (Phil Coale/Associated Press)
Globe Staff / March 24, 2010

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TALLAHASSEE — Attorneys general from 13 states sued the federal government yesterday, arguing the landmark health care overhaul is unconstitutional just seven minutes after President Obama signed it into law.

The lawsuit was filed in Pensacola after the Democratic president signed the 10-year, $938 billion bill the House passed Sunday night.

“The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage,’’ the lawsuit says.

Legal specialists say it has little chance of succeeding because, under the Constitution, federal laws trump state laws.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is taking the lead, joined by attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, Colorado, and Louisiana. All are Republicans except James “Buddy’’ Caldwell of Louisiana, a Democrat.

Some states are considering separate lawsuits — Virginia filed one yesterday — and still others may join the multistate suit.

On March 8, The Boston Globe reported on these efforts to derail a national health care law.

McCollum, who is running for governor, argues the bill will cause “substantial harm and financial burden’’ to the states.

The lawsuit contends that the bill violates the 10th Amendment, which says the federal government has no authority beyond the powers granted to it under the Constitution, by forcing the states to carry out its provisions but not reimbursing them for the costs.

The lawsuit also says the states cannot afford the new law. Using Florida as an example, the lawsuit says the overhaul will add almost 1.3 million people to the state’s Medicaid rolls and cost the state an additional $150 million in 2014, growing to $1 billion a year by 2019.

“A legal challenge by the states appears to be the only hope of protecting the American people from this unprecedented attack on our system of government,’’ said Attorney General Henry McMaster of South Carolina, who is also running for governor.

But Lawrence Friedman, a professor who teaches constitutional law at the New England School of Law in Boston, said before the suit was filed that it has little chance of success. He said he cannot imagine a scenario in which a judge would stop implementation of the health care bill.

Still, McCollum said he expects the US Supreme Court will eventually decide if the overhaul is constitutional. “This is not lawful,’’ he said. “It may have passed Congress, but there are three branches of government.’’

Kennedy’s family pays respects on health care
Comprehensive health care reform, Edward M. Kennedy said in an oft-cited remark, was “the cause of my life.’’ As remembrances of his life and legacy permeated the celebration at the White House bill-signing ceremony yesterday, a more somber reflection took place across the Potomac River.

The white cross at Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery was a popular stopping point for supporters and health care advocates, despite gusty winds and drizzling rain. Kennedy pushed for universal health care coverage since the early 1970s and led the fight on such steps as expanding coverage for children. He died in August.

Vicki Kennedy, his widow, said she spent hours at the grave Sunday before the House passed the landmark legislation. According to The Washington Post, his son, Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, left a handwritten note Monday that read, “Dad, the unfinished business is done.’’

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