“Seven minutes after” President Obama signed into law historic health care legislation that will extend health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, 13 GOP state Attorneys General sued the federal government on grounds that the health care bill is unconstitutional.
Shortly after the bill’s signing, MSNBC host Chris Matthews brought on one of these Attorneys General, Nebraska’s Jon Bruning (R), to explain why he is suing the U.S. government. At the start of their discussion, Matthews asked Bruning why, if the health care bill is unconstitutional because it mandates that all Americans purchase health insurance, the federal government is allowed to require all hospital emergency rooms to care for all patients they recieve, regardless of their ability to pay. Bruning responded that this requirement exists because of “state laws“:
MATTHEWS: On this question, what constitutional ruling requires hospitals to admit people who come in to emergency rooms, whether they were in a highway accident, or a stroke, or a heart attack, and those hospital laws are required to treat them effectively, not just second-rate treatment, but treat them as long as they need treatment. What law requires that? And then I want to go to why you think its unconstitutional to require a person to insure themselves against that possibility.
BRUNING: Well, it’s various state laws that require that. But ultimately this is a constitutional question, this is a commerce clause issue.
Bruning is wrong to say that state laws are responsible for hospitals’ inability to turn away patients from their emergency rooms. In 1986, Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), which required emergency rooms to treat patients suffering from emergency medical conditions, regardless of their ability to pay. Given that Bruning is suing the federal government on the grounds that Congress’s health care overhaul is unconstitutional and apparently does not realize that there is a federal law that prohibits emergency rooms from turning away patients, it would be interesting to know if he thinks that law is also unconstitutional.
These lawsuits have no firm legal ground to stand on. Even leading conservative legal scholars have admitted they’re nothing but “political theater.” “The notion that a state can just choose to opt out is just preposterous,” said former Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried. “One is left speechless by the absurdity of it.”
The National Journal notes that there may be political motivations behind the lawsuits. Four of the Attorneys General are running for Governor.