McCollum's lawsuit against Obamacare raises legitimate questions

The score is now 2 to 1.

Two judges have said the federal health care law is constitutional. This week in Virginia, a third judge ruled it was unconstitutional.

This morning in Pensacola, Florida and 19 other states will go before yet a fourth federal judge with yet another challenge to the law.

No matter what, everybody expects the whole thing to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, this week's ruling in Virginia proved that the case is not a slam-dunk either way — and it is already a partial vindication for our state's Republican attorney general, Bill McCollum.

When McCollum sued last March to block the health care law, quite naturally, many Democrats said it was only a political stunt meant to help his race for governor (which he later lost anyway).

Dan Gelber, then a Democratic candidate for attorney general, called McCollum's lawsuit a "political frolic" and "an ideological escapade" that would be thrown out of court.

Deborah Wasserman-Schultz, a Democratic House member from South Florida and a fixture on cable-TV news, called the lawsuit "a waste of taxpayer money."

And yet, the score today is 2 to 1.

In other words, there is at least one sitting U.S. district judge in the country (so far) who agrees the law is unconstitutional.

Maybe he is a nut, and the other two are right. Or maybe he is the smart cookie and the other two are wrong.

No matter what, there is a federal court ruling on the books that goes the other way. As my country cousins used to say, that's not nothin'.

Here is the main issue in the case:

Can Congress force Americans to get health coverage and punish us if we don't?

The fact is that Congress can't just pass any durn-tootin' law that it wants. Everybody agrees on that.

Congress only has certain powers. They are laid out in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution.

One of these powers is to regulate "interstate commerce." Is that what this health care law does?

Critics like McCollum say Congress is trying to punish Americans for doing nothing. Hey, you want to live your life without health insurance, that's your business — and it sure as heck ain't "interstate commerce."

The opposing argument is that Americans who don't get health coverage aren't really "doing nothing." They are just putting off the day that they show up at the emergency room, or go on Medicare or Medicaid, and then become a burden on society, paid for by taxpayers across the nation.

So by this argument, Americans without coverage are making a decision that affects everybody else after all. Congress is entitled to bring them into the system now.

Now, who is right? Two judges say one thing; a third says another. Personally, I buy the argument that everybody comes into the system sooner or later, so it's legit to make 'em come in sooner. Hey, we all have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes from the get-go.

But I am not a federal district judge, and besides, I still think McCollum raises a legitimate question. And I most definitely am not John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito or any other U.S. Supreme Court justice. If you want to predict breezily that they are gonna uphold this law, you go right ahead.

McCollum's lawsuit against Obamacare raises legitimate questions 12/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 4:29pm]

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