Defense of Marriage ruling may have healthcare reform implications

A federal judge’s ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act has ironically rekindled conservatives’ hopes that their arguments against the healthcare reform law will prevail. In issuing his ruling Thursday against the law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages, Boston District Court Judge Joseph Tauro held that restrictions on federal funding for states that recognize such unions was a violation of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment.

The Supreme Court very rarely strikes down federal laws for violating that provision of the constitution.

“To see a judge actually reaffirm the 10th Amendment is very positive no matter what side of the gay marriage debate you fall on,” said Christie Herrera, director of the Health and Human Services Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

ALEC is an organization of conservative state lawmakers that has been pressing states to adopt laws rejecting federal intrusion into healthcare. Herrera said the direct fall-out from Tauro’s ruling, which the Obama administration is expected to appeal, would be limited.

She pointed out that the two state lawsuits against healthcare reform — one filed by Virginia, the other by a coalition of almost two dozen states — don’t focus on the 10th Amendment. 

The Virginia case argues the law’s individual mandate, requiring most people to buy insurance or pay a fine, violates the Constitution’s “commerce” and “necessary and proper” clauses, and is not a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing powers. The multi-state lawsuit is broader, and challenges the law’s health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion in addition to the individual mandate.

The multi-state lawsuit does rely on the 10th Amendment in rejecting state health insurance exchanges, which are scheduled to go online in 2014. The lawsuit argues the amendment prohibits the federal government from “commandeering” states to administer and fund the exchanges.

The real impact of Tauro’s ruling may be felt in the event that the two state lawsuits fail, Herrera said. In that case, state laws outlawing the individual mandate are likely to face 10th-Amendment based challenges.

“I don’t think this has any effect on the current lawsuits,” she said. “Is it a good indication of how future 10th Amendment lawsuits coming from the states will fare? Yes.”