Topeka Attorney General Derek Schmidt has brought Kansas into another lawsuit against the federal health care overhaul enacted last year, and he said Tuesday that the move will help states flesh out arguments they expect to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which has scheduled arguments from attorneys for September. Five individuals from three states allege a federal mandate that most Americans buy health insurance, starting in 2014, violates their religious liberties because their beliefs compel them not to purchase coverage.
Schmidt and attorneys general for 13 other states ignored that issue in filing a friend-of-the-court brief last month asking the appeals court to strike down the mandate. Instead, they argued, the mandate represents an unprecedented expansion of federal power not allowed by the U.S. Constitution. Schmidt also said the attorneys general are concerned about what they perceive as an overly broad ruling by a federal judge.
Kansas already is among 26 states challenging the federal health care overhaul in a lawsuit filed in Florida that's scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Schmidt said he may consider bringing Kansas into other cases.
"We're not out going shopping for opportunities to get engaged, but we're also keeping a watchful eye on cases as they make their way up," Schmidt said during an interview with The Associated Press.
Schmidt said the state's involvement in the lawsuits is costing his office no money and only a "nominal amount" of staff time.
"We are looking at the most strategic moves to put us in the strongest position when the issue gets before the U.S. Supreme Court," Schmidt said. "We want to help get the record fleshed out."
The federal law says Americans who don't buy health insurance and don't qualify for an exemption face paying tax penalties. Democratic President Barack Obama's administration, which pushed for the overhaul, argues that a provision of the U.S. Constitution allowing the federal government to regulate interstate commerce permits it to impose the mandate.
Schmidt and other Kansans, particularly his fellow Republicans, disagree, and this year, Kansas legislators enacted a health care "freedom" law. It takes effect July 1 and says no individual can be compelled to buy health insurance and the policy, meant to challenge the federal mandate. However, even a few lawmakers who supported it doubt state action can trump federal law.
In the lawsuit in the District of Columbia, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in February that decisions not to purchase health insurance, collectively, are an economic activity that can be regulated by the federal government. Schmidt said he and the other attorneys general saw her conclusion as "so far off the mark" that they wanted to intervene.
The case's five plaintiffs, one from New York, one from North Carolina and three from Texas, relied heavily on religious freedom arguments, which the judge rejected.
Three described themselves as Christians who said they believe purchasing health insurance would demonstrate that they are not really sure whether God will provide for their needs. The other two plaintiffs say they believe in a "holistic approach to medical care."