House Republicans Can Proceed With Obamacare Lawsuit

 

shutterstock_110880746Yesterday, a federal court ruled that the House of Representatives could pursue its claim against the Obama administration for spending billions of dollars on Obamacare that had never been appropriated by Congress. US District Judge Rosemary Collyer — a George W. Bush appointee — rejected the arguments that the House lacks “standing” to sue and that the lawsuit was too political to be heard in the courts.

“Despite its potential political ramifications, this suit remains a plain dispute over a constitutional command, of which the Judiciary has long been the ultimate interpreter,” the judge wrote in her ruling. The constitutional command is unambiguous: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law …” (Article I, § 9, cl. 7).

So now the lawsuit heads toward trial and the inevitable appeals process. Of course, the constitutionality of Obamacare itself is not at issue in this suit — rather it is the constitutionality of the unilateral executive actions taken to implement the law. Still, the case could be an opportunity for the courts to smack down Obama for his abuse of executive power. Or it could be another opportunity for Chief Justice Roberts to rewrite the law once again.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    I suppose this is a good thing — it’s a significant breach of power and a lot of money — but I’m rather perplexed by Congress’s pursuing this while letting the Iran deal go through with nary a protest.

    • #1
  2. Jager Coolidge
    Jager
    @Jager

    I hope this works out but really since Roberts has done everything in his power to keep this law, I don’t think this will matter much.

    • #2
  3. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman
    @AdamFreedman

    Tom, it’s a fair point, but the treaty power is not so clear cut as Congress’s power of the purse.  There are other examples of international agreements that weren’t considered “treaties,” so it is a more difficult case to make that the administration is evading the Constitution by characterizing this deal as something other than a treaty. The upside is that if the Iran deal is not a treaty, then it is also not covered by the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states:

    This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; 

    Thus, Congress has the power to undo all or part of the agreement or to defund the implementation of it.  Also, states and municipalities are free to keep — or expand — their own Iranian sanctions programs without being preempted.

    Having said all that, once the “executive agreement” takes effect, I don’t think it would do any harm for the Senate to file a lawsuit alleging the usurpation of their constitutional powers.

    • #3
  4. Fredösphere Member
    Fredösphere
    @Fredosphere

    Didn’t the courts rule long ago to disallow the opposite–a President refusing to spend funds appropriated by Congress? If so, I don’t see how the Court intervening in the present dispute should be controversial, or that the outcome should be much in doubt. We live in a time of corrupt judges, however….

    • #4
  5. Tom Riehl Inactive
    Tom Riehl
    @TrinityWaters

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I suppose this is a good thing — it’s a significant breach of power and a lot of money — but I’m rather perplexed by Congress’s pursuing this while letting the Iran deal go through with nary a protest.

    One has political cost, the other doesn’t.  Other than that, it’s a full employment act for lawyers.

    • #5
  6. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman
    @AdamFreedman

    Tom Riehl:

    One has political cost, the other doesn’t. Other than that, it’s a full employment act for lawyers.

    Well, I am a lawyer, so I’m ok with that part.

    • #6
  7. Adam Freedman Contributor
    Adam Freedman
    @AdamFreedman

    Update – over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Professor Eugene Kontorovich argues that this decision does indeed open the door to a challenge of the Iran deal:

    Whether it survives on appeal, the decision creates a major and previously unanticipated opening for a congressional lawsuit challenging the Iran Joint Plan of Action. The constitutional argument would focus on the non-transmission of documents required under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (the Corker-Cardin deal), which would seem to satisfy the standing test established by the district court.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Very interesting. Thanks, Adam.

    • #8
  9. DrRich Inactive
    DrRich
    @DrRich

    Let us hold our horses. Judge Collyer has led us down the primrose path before.

    In 1993 the Clinton administration published an obscure rule saying that elderly Americans cannot drop out of Medicare unless they also give up (and repay) their Social Security benefits. This rule went largely unnoticed for years, until a lawsuit (Hall v. Sebelius) asserted that Americans must indeed have the right not to accept Medicare, while still keeping their SS.

    In 2009 Judge Collyer denied a motion to dismiss by the Obama administration, pointedly noting that “neither the statute nor the regulation specifies that Plaintiffs must withdraw from SS and repay retirement benefits in order to withdraw from Medicare.”  So Judge Collyer’s head is on straight. Right?

    Not so fast. By 2011, Judge Collyer had found a new interpretation of the Medicare statute itself, and finally ruled against the plaintiffs. People who are “entitled” to SS under the statute, she said, are also “entitled” to Medicare – and so if one opts to accept SS one must also accept Medicare. Therefore, “entitled” does not imply anything optional.  To quote Collyer, “‘Entitled’ does not actually mean ‘capable of being rejected.'”

    I note the apparent change in Judge Collyer’s reading of the Medicare statute between 2009 and 2011, and I am not greatly comforted by the fact that she has ruled the House has standing in this new Obamacare case. I don’t believe it implies she is sympathetic to the merits of the case.

    • #9
  10. Chris Gregerson Member
    Chris Gregerson
    @ChrisGregerson

    I don’t understand where congress gets the standing to sue the executive. What’s the damage that the congress sustained? I’m not a lawyer, but can one explain this to me.

    • #10
  11. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Chris Gregerson:I don’t understand where congress gets the standing to sue the executive. What’s the damage that the congress sustained? I’m not a lawyer, but can one explain this to me.

    The Executive stole power rightfully belonging to Congress, and that’s an injustice against Congress.

    I think that’s the idea.  (But I’m also not a lawyer!)

    • #11

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