Opponents present case against Obama's health-care law in 20-state lawsuit

The House of Representatives passed landmark legislation to overhaul the nation's health-care system, approving a Senate bill and a separate package of amendments.
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 11:08 PM

PENSACOLA, FLA. - A year ago, thousands of Americans were so enraged by the pending health-care overhaul bill that they packed their Congress members' summer town hall meetings, transforming the annual political rituals into emotional screaming matches.

On Tuesday, as 20 states seeking to nullify the law squared off against the Obama administration in a federal courthouse in Pensacola, the popular outpouring was largely limited to a single man who braved the withering heat to brandish a sign reading "Healthcare Makes Us Sick."

Yet the paltry showing comes as polls indicate that the public remains profoundly ambivalent about the president's signature legislative achievement. And there's a chance that the soft-spoken lawyers may accomplish what the most vocal protestors at last year's town halls could not: By the end of Tuesday's hearing, Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida said he was likely to rule against the Obama administration's motion to throw out the case "on at least one count."

If the judge, who said he will render his decision no later than Oct. 14, rules in the states' favor, he will only be upholding their standing to argue the merits of their claim that the law violates the Constitution.

Virginia, which is mounting a similar but distinct federal suit, already won that battle and has filed a motion for summary judgment, with oral arguments scheduled for Oct. 18.

Attorneys in the multi-state lawsuit - originally filed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and the Republican attorneys general of 12 other states within hours of the law's adoption in March - will also be filing for summary judgment and will probably get a hearing on Dec. 16.

In addition to Florida, the states party to the suit are South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Alaska. Two individuals and the National Federation of Independent Business have also joined.

Along with Virginia's suit, the multi-state effort appears to be the most promising among 15 to 20 lawsuits challenging some aspect of the health-care law, according to a Justice Department estimate.

So far the other suits don't appear to have fared as well, with judges in California and Maryland dismissing two of them.

As with the debate over the law itself, the effort to overturn it through the courts is causing political rifts in many states. Four governors who disagreed with the decisions by their attorneys general to join the multi-state suit have attempted to file amicus briefs supporting the Obama administration's position. (Vinson did not accept them but gave the governors leave to try again if the case moves forward.)

Meanwhile, for all the public's discomfort with the new law, it is not clear that voters will reward those who seek to overturn it. Three attorneys general who took a prominent role in the lawsuit were recently defeated in Republican primaries, including McCollum, who lost his bid to be the GOP's nominee for governor of Florida.

Still, McCollum was both ebullient and determined after Tuesday's hearing, declaring at a news conference on the courthouse steps that "this is going to be the most significant case in my lifetime. . . . Our system of federalism rests on the decisions of this court."

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