Coakley, Cuccinelli debate federal health care law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Feb 10, 2012



WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Two state attorneys general squared off Thursday in a discussion about the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Massachusetts' Martha Coakley and Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli led the National Press Club's Newsmaker discussion, "The Affordable Health Care Act -- Constitutional or Not?"

The attorneys general discussed several aspects of the case, including the hotly debated individual mandate, tax basis, general welfare aspect, expansion of Medicaid and severability.

Coakley, a supporter of Obama's law, last month filed a brief to the nation's highest court, defending it by comparing to her state's own health care law.

A strong opponent of the reform, Cuccinelli filed his own lawsuit against the law only months after taking office in January 2010. He is now running for governor.

According to the Washington Examiner, the Virginia attorney general said the law calls for the "dramatic destruction of liberty in this country."

At the center of the discussion was the reform's mandate, which requires individuals who do not purchase health insurance to pay a yearly $695 penalty.

Cuccinelli, in his own lawsuit against the law, argued that the mandate clashed with the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which says Virginians are not required to purchase health insurance.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in the Virginia case that Cuccinelli did not have standing to challenge the law on behalf of the State because it wouldn't be affected by the mandate. Only individual Virginians would be, the court said in overturning a district judge's ruling.

On Thursday, Cuccinelli argued that the law is forcing a person to purchase something against his or her will.

Coakley disagreed, again referencing her own state's health care law.

"Everybody is in the health care marketplace. Everybody uses some kind of health care or will and if you use health care, you can be regulated," she said, according to the Examiner.

Thursday's talk, held at the National Press Club in Washington, served as a prelude to the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of the case in March.

A total of 14 states, later joined by 12 others, filed a separate challenge to the law in 2010.

In September, the states filed a petition to have their challenge heard immediately by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court, which agreed in November to hear the case, will hear oral arguments on the four issues involved in the challenge to the law over three days in March. It could make a ruling in June.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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