At a press conference on Thursday morning, Democratic Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green, both from Texas, equated the suits filed by fourteen state attorneys general, particularly that of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, fighting the health care bill recently passed in Congress, to the suits that were filed following the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. (all emphasis is mine)
“…[with] the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act—lo and behold states’ rights activists wanted to use the Commerce Clause then. Then, African Americans were second class citizens. That legislation was to bring them into then the 20th Century and provide them with first class rights,” she said.
“Now it seems that sick Americans are second class citizens, and these attorneys generals will use the same arguments made against the civil rights legislation to be able to fraught this empowerment of Americans…all Americans of all races. So I would say to them, ‘shame on them’ to be able to use these kinds of tactics to marginalize and to permanently declare that there’s a second-class status for Americans who happen to be sick.”
Rep. Jackson Lee explained to reporters why she believes the health care act is constitutional. She said that Congress passed the bill under U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause otherwise known as article one section eight clause three.
“This clause states in part, ‘the Congress shall have power to regulate the foreign nations and among several states,’” she explained. “The phrase ‘among several states’ is key. In addition, it is important to note that the Commerce Clause tracks what happens in states. The requirement of car insurance, seatbelts, and motorcycle helmets is necessary in protecting the public.”
Ms. Jackson Lee also referenced the 2005 Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Raich. The court ruled, under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, that the United States Congress is allowed “To regulate Commerce… among the several States.” As a result of the high court ruling, Congress can ban the use of cannabis even where states allow its use for medicinal purposes.
“Many scholars have stated that Gonzales versus Raich decision provides a sufficient basis of congress to mandate that individual purchase of health insurance,” she said noting President Reagan’s Solicitor General, and Obama supporter, Charles Fried said, “We have tons of laws that impose obligations on people,’ he said, ‘and some people would rather not participate, starting with the Internal Revenue code.”
I mentioned to the Ms. Jackson Lee that never before has Congress ever mandated that an individual be forced into a financial transaction with a private company. I asked her what the Constitutional basis was for that particular issue. Rep. Jackson Lee mentioned that the 1944 Southeastern Underwriters Association (SEUA) Supreme Court case.
The court ruled that insurance, when conducted between states, is interstate commerce and would henceforth be subject to federal regulation under the Sherman Act and other antitrust acts.
“The basis is that, as I indicated in the 1944 Supreme Court case, has said that the federal government can regulate insurance. If we take thecivil rights cases over a series of time that was one of the questions in a sort of different frame that was asked. For example, if you sued a country club, the question would be, ‘This is a private country club. Do you make the private country club engage with this consumer who wanted to be at the country club?’ The argument was that there was a Commerce Clause, an interstate Commerce Clause, and therefore you can put these two together. Meaning that the private country club could, in fact, be subjected to federal laws and discrimination. In this instance you are regulating insurance but you are also requiring an action on a citizen. You require them to pay income taxes. You require a lot of federal actions for citizens. In this instance you are regulating the insurance. The action is that the person has to have insurance, but you’re regulating insurance. That is legitimate. Of course, a person can refuse such. Very few individuals we expect to do so, but they can refuse such, but you have the ability through the regulating of insurance for the safety of individuals in the community. That is the larger good.”
“So simply existing in the United States mandates you to buying private insurance?” I asked.
“As you well know, it a combination. First of all, Medicaid will be expanded to those who cannot afford insurance. Insurance happens to be predominantly in the hands of the private sector just asmost of the building ownership of America is in the hands of the private sector, so the private sector is in cooperation with the concept that all have to have insurance for the greater safety of the community and to provide for the sick of this community. So in essence, it’s for the greater good. I do think the federal government does have that privilege under the Commerce Clause,” said Rep. Jackson Lee.
The Texas congresswoman later warned that if the Attorneys General cases are not summarily dismissed, civil rights organizations will mobilize together and politically organize.
“We are in discussions, and I rather not raise their names at this point, but we arranged discussions over the weekend on a number of issues that we think warrant the attention of a number of civil rights organizations. You’ll be hearing that going forward.”