On April 5, I posted on the letter written by Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson to Congress, that “H.R. 5 flagrantly contravenes the limitations the Constitution places places upon Congress, and therefore violates both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.” That bill would place new federal limits on lawsuits filed against a broad range of health care-related companies, including doctors, hospitals, drug & device companies, insurance companies, and nursing homes. It would also impose a federal wage scale on attorneys involved in those cases. Professor Natelson is an expert on the Founding Era; a former Republican candidate for Governor of Montana; and now Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Colorado, a non-partisan, free-market-oriented public policy research organization.
Among his other points was a direct criticism of a section in H.R. 5 which purports to protect states’ rights. Natelson doesn’t buy it: “Moreover, the section grants protection only when the state undertakes policy choices preferred by Congress. Thus, state laws that offer ‘greater… protections for health care providers’ are preserved, while those that offer less are overridden. States that enact statutory caps on damages receive protection, while those that make the traditional common law choice — leaving the amount to jury and judge — receive no protection. The section is, in other words, more in the nature of an insult to the states than a protection of federalism.“
Rob Natelson reiterated his opposition to H.R. 5 yesterday, in a new post on his website, the Electric City Weblog. I quote:
“Yet, as incredible as it may seem, in light of the message send by the 2010 elections, Congress continues to consider bills to expand government. A good example is HR 5, which if enacted, would be a massive intrusion into the state court systems. (sic)
Up till now the state courts have been one of the few areas of life relatively untouched by federal meddling. That is as it was supposed to be: State court systems are central to state sovereignty. Moreover, the Constitution reserves most issues of civil and criminal justice to the exclusive authority of the states, rather than the federal government. When the Constitution was being considered, its supporters said explicitly that state court systems are constitutionally out-of-bounds for Congress.
All members of Congress take an oath to uphold the Constitution. Many Republican members were elected after specifically pledging to honor constitutional limits. You would think they would honor their word for at least a few months. But just weeks after their swearing-in, over 100 members (mostly Republicans) had signed onto HR 5.
HR 5 is advertised as addressing abusive lawsuits against physicians, but it goes far beyond that. It would regulate in detail just about every American lawsuit that has anything to do with health care: What an injured party can allege in his or her initial filing, the damages he or she can recover, how damages are disbursed, burdens of proof, what the jury may and may not consider, which state laws survive and which don’t. HR 5 even directs state judges to conceal pertinent information from the jury.
It’s not certain the Supreme Court would uphold all of this bill. But it is certainly a flagrant invasion of local control.
Here’s a real irony: The Republicans supporting HR 5 justify it by parroting exactly the same ridiculous “Commerce Clause” claims the President uses to justify ObamaCare. (Emphasis mine.)
Of course, it’s not like Congress doesn’t have anything else to do. It has its hands more than full trying to rescue the country from a financial train wreck. Congress should be concentrating on cutting the federal deficit, which this year will approach 45% of expenditures. It should de-fund organizations that essentially lobby on the taxpayers’ money. It should encourage economic growth (and thereby increase revenues) by reforming the tax code to close loopholes and cut rates.
Similarly, Congress could allow states to contract with each other to opt out of ObamaCare. Most important of all, it could propose constitutional amendments to term-limit members of Congress and require a balanced budget. In the 1990s, Congress came within one vote of sending a balanced budget amendment to the states. If it had done so we would not be in the fiscal mess we are today.
If the congressional leaders can’t find the two-thirds majority needed in each house to propose an amendment, they could encourage the states to use the alternative procedure the Constitution gives the states for proposing amendments.
Tea Party folks who thought they save the country around in one election are learning that we have a very long road ahead.“