States’ rights and moral wrongs

States’ rights and moral wrongs

- in Fitzsimon File

First there were death panels that were going to kill grandmothers. Then Medicare was being slashed to cut off benefits to seniors and everybody who has health care now was going to lose it.

Those absurd claims were everywhere last summer at the height of the tea parties and town hall protests against health care reform. Now only the folks on the fringe mention them anymore, so the Republican manipulators of fear have moved on in their rhetorical efforts to distort the health care legislation in their desperate efforts to regain power in Washington and Raleigh.

Their newest ploy, dressed up in flowery prose about the constitution and misleading legal language about the Interstate Commerce Clause, is really just another appeal to divide us with echoes of our troubled past by invoking claims of states' rights, asserting that health care reform is another example of the federal government overstepping its authority.

That ought to sound familiar, conservative lawmakers, governors, and state attorneys general, vowing to defy the federal government, standing in schoolhouse doors. Texas Governor Rick Perry set the stage for this latest incarnation of state's rights at a Tea Party event last spring talking about Texas seceding from the Union because the federal government has become "oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of citizens, and its interference with affairs of state."

Attorneys General of 14 states are now asking the federal courts to prevent the implementation of health care reform claiming that it is unconstitutional in two ways, that the health care mandates violate the Commerce Clause and that the reforms violate state sovereignty by forcing states to expand their Medicaid programs, set up insurance exchanges, etc.

Wake Forest Law Professor Mark Hall easily dismissed both claims recently in an essay in for a publication of the Seton Hall School of Law. Hall says the claim that the insurance mandate violates the Commerce Clause is flawed because legally the mandate is basically a "tax for the general welfare" and he quotes Texas Law Professor Sandy Levinson saying that "the argument about constitutionality is, if not frivolous, close to it."

Hall says the arguments about state sovereignty are equally miscast, pointing out that states are technically not required to participate in Medicaid or the insurance exchanges, leaving their citizens free to use the federal exchange.

As for legislative efforts in states like Virginia and North Carolina to nullify the federal law, Hall quotes Harvard's Charles Fried, the Solicitor General for President Ronald Reagan, "It's like Virginia saying we don't have to pay income tax…One is left speechless by the absurdity of it."

North Carolina Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger has been on Twitter every day since health passed encouraging people to oppose the federal efforts to takeover health care and pledging to introduce legislation to "exempt North Carolina from Obamacare."

Berger has repeatedly called on Attorney General Roy Cooper to join the lawsuits against health care reform. Cooper has refused, but not very vociferously.

Cooper ought to follow the example of Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray who issued a statement Monday, laying out the reasons why he was not going to join the lawsuit and calling the whole effort a waste of taxpayer money.

We have heard all this before, the refusal to obey federal laws that guarantee equal opportunities to all regardless of the color of their skin. Now the disciples of the people who stood in the schoolhouse doors waving the states' rights banner want to block the entrance to the doctor's office for millions of people, allegedly in the name of the constitution they claim to be defending.

The motives were clear then and they are clear now, to divide people for their own political gain. The lawsuits aren't about the constitution or the Commerce Clause. They are about keeping their angry base energized until the election.

That's appears to be far more important to the manipulators of fear than making sure everybody can see a doctor when they need one.