Published April 13, 2010
More than 5000 Americans have joined a lawsuit against President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that challenges the constitutionality of the entire health care law. While several lawsuits are pending against the health care law, this lawsuit may be the only one taking broad aim at the law's constitutionality.
Tennessee attorney Van Irion, a Republican candidate for Congress, filed the complaint Thursday in Eastern Tennessee’s Federal District Court. Irion allows concerned citizens to join the lawsuit through a form on his Web site.
"We've been surprised at how many people from across the country want to join," Irion said in an e-mail to Fox News.
Eighteen state attorneys general and other individuals have filed suits that attack only the specifics of the health care law. This is an attack on the law's very foundation, claiming that nothing in the Constitution grants the federal government authority to regulate health care. Therefore the plaintiffs claim the law violates the 10th Amendment that reserves powers not granted to the national government to the states.
The complaint claims that the high-profile Democratic defendants abused their power and violated their oaths of office. The suit claims they failed to uphold and defend the Constitution by supporting legislation the plaintiffs say is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue the defendants violated their constitutional rights, and they are seeking “injunctive relief, declaratory relief,” and “damages to redress and remedy of the violations” to prevent “irreparable harm and future violations” of their rights and the rights of others.
A constitutional law professor at Emory University says this lawsuit is unique because it questions the long-standing interpretation of the Constitution’s commerce clause. That clause, which says that Congress has power to regulate commerce among the states, is central to this lawsuit. During Franklin Roosevelt's presidency, after passage of the New Deal policies, the Supreme Court broadened the definition of "commerce" to allow more federal regulation, setting a precedent that stands today.
“I think [this lawsuit] is different,” Robert Schapiro said . “It doesn’t even really pretend to argue under the way the Constitution is [currently] interpreted. It’s saying we should have some other interpretation of the Constitution.”
Confronting and reversing the court's precedent is Irion's goal.
“It’s a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s commerce clause precedent of the 1930s and '40s,” Irion said. “If the Supreme Court was to overturn its commerce clause precedent, the size and authority of the Federal Government would be slashed.”
Irion says he is taking this case pro bono. The initial plaintiff was Anthony Shreeve, a Tennessee Tea Party activist, but now the complaint will be changed to include the hundreds of individuals and companies from every state that have signed on as plaintiffs. Irion is seeking class-action status for the suit.
The plaintiff registration process is relatively simple, and any individual or company can participate, according to Irion. After each person signs up, his or her contact information and place of residency is confirmed, and then they are added to the complaint as plaintiffs. No attorney fees or costs will be charged to them.
Though the lawsuit is unique, Schapiro says ultimately it lacks merit, and that the legislation is on firm Constitutional footing, based on precedent from Supreme Court cases on commerce regulation.
“It would be unwise and destabilizing to say we should try to abandon the evolution of the Constitution that has taken place over so many years, and to start from scratch and reconstruct a constitutional system from that,” Schapiro said.
By law, the defendants have 60 days to respond to the complaint. Schapiro says they will most likely move to dismiss the lawsuit “on a number of different grounds.”
The suit was prompted by the Tennessee attorney general’s announcement that he would not file a suit against the federal law. Irion says his intent in filing the suit was to give the citizens of Tennessee a voice, but the idea has caught on around the nation.
Irion is running for Tennessee’s Third Congressional District seat. Long-time Republican incumbent Rep. Zach Wamp is leaving to run for governor. Irion faces an uphill battle. As of Dec. 31, he had less money than any of the six other Republican candidates, according to federal filing records. He had only $304 cash on hand, compared to Republican candidate Charles J. Fleischmann’s $451,369.