RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) –The battle lines have been drawn over a key lawsuit in the fight over health care reform. That's originating right out of Virginia. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has responded to the federal government's request that a lawsuit filed in protest of the health care reform plan be tossed out. Here to discuss this latest development in this case is Jack Pries, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School.
Ryan Nobles: The first stage is this is there's a fight on whether or not the case has any merit. The federal government has asked to dismiss it but the Attorney General believes it should move forward. What does that mean?
Jack Pries: The core of the dispute here is about Congress's power under the Commerce Clause. There's a couple different parts of the dispute that also relate to jurisdictional issues but without putting your viewers to sleep we'll focus on the idea of the commerce power that Congress has. The key idea here is that Congress has the power to regulate commerce that's happening. Ken Cuccinelli says that's fine if commerce is actually happening, but what Congress can't do is make commerce happen. And what they have done is required people to buy insurance. The federal government says you need to buy insurance, so we can have an interstate health market that works evenly and fairly. Cuccinelli's view, and there is something to this, says if they can force us to buy insurance, they can force us to buy anything.
Ryan Nobles: Right.
Jack Pries: Congress doesn't have the power to make commerce happen.
Ryan Nobles: Right. And so essentially what these judges, correct me if I'm wrong, are going to try and decide is whether or not Congress has the ability to force people to buy insurance?
Jack Pries: Yes.
Ryan Nobles: Is insurance separate from different kind of commerce like toilet paper or listening to the radio, for instance.
Jack Pries: You might think that healthcare is specifically an interstate item because it involves insurance and insurance works through risk pools where people across state borders join the resources to share risks and benefits. I think there's a strong argument here that this does relate to commerce, but in Attorney General Cuccinelli's view this is a dangerous precedent. If Congress has the power to make is buy health insurance, next thing you know, when GM needs a bailout they're going to make us buy Chevy trucks and that's scary prerogative for a lot of people. I think the federal government has some good responses to this. Their big point of view is that everyone is already buying healthcare.
Ryan Nobles: Even if they don't necessarily have a plan.
Jack Pries: Exactly. We consume healthcare from the day we're born. The minute we enter the world, we're in a doctor's hands physically. All of us consume healthcare and the issue is not whether or not we consume it, it's how we are able to finance it. That's the issue.
Ryan Nobles: Quickly, I guess this is the first stage in this fight?
Jack Pries: Yes.
Ryan Nobles: Do most legal experts believe that regardless of the way this is decided here in Richmond, that it will ultimately go to the Supreme Court?
Jack Pries: It's tough to say if this particular suit will go to the Supreme Court. The issue is at least going to go to the court of appeals in the mid-Atlantic region and probably in the southern portion of the United States near Florida. The Supreme Court will certainly look very closely at whether to step in. It all depends what these lower courts say and whether or not the court reaches sort of -- the country reaches equilibrium on these issues.
Ryan Nobles: So the debate will go on for some time.
Jack Pries: Yes.
Ryan Nobles: And we'll have you back to talk about it when it does.
Jack Pries: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure.
See the video at right for the full interview.