Affordable Care Act May Stop Federal Tort Reform in Its Tracks

On Thursday the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare). Our Illinois nursing home abuse lawyers understand that complex constitutional issues at play in the appeal. Obviously emotions were high on both sides. In a somewhat surprising move, virtually all of the law was upheld as constitutional, including the controversial individual mandate portion of the legislation.

Not only was the opinion surprising, but many were startled to see Chief Justice John Roberts join the majority and author the opinion. It represents the first time ever that the Chief Justice has joined in a 5-4 opinion with the Court’s 4 more “liberal” members–Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

The AFA was upheld on grounds that it represented a “tax” and was therefore within Congress’s power as a way to exercise its taxing power. This is actually different than the argument made by the Obama Administration in defending the law during the hearing on the bill. The Administration actually argued that the law was constitutional under the “Commerce Clause” which allows the federal government to legislative interstate commerce.

Each Chicago nursing home abuse lawyer knows that while most attention will be focused on the fact that the law stands, the grounds on which the ruling was reached may have implications on future legislation. That including laws affecting nursing home neglect issues.

Federal Tort Reform
Perhaps the most obvious implication of the ruling is that it may limit tort reform legislation at the federal level seeking to limit the rights of medical malpractice and nursing home abuse victims. The U.S. Congressional House Republican caucus already plans to vote to repeal the law in a week and a half. After repeal they may propose an “alternative.” The alternative is likely to include tort reform proposals.

However, it is unclear how the tort reform efforts will stand up to constitutional scrutiny–at least if one believes the constitution applies in the way that most tort-reform advocates claim. Specifically, the only way that the federal tort reform mandates would pass constitutional muster would be under application of the commerce clause. Yet, it is unclear how the rules would be applicable considering the court just held that the AFA is not a valid exercise of the government’s ability to regulate interstate commerce.

In his decision in the AFA case, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that: “The facets of governing that touch on citizens’ daily lives are normally administered by smaller governments closer to the governed. The Framers thus ensured that powers which, ‘in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people’ were held by government more local and more accountable than a distant federal bureaucracy.”

In other words, details about the rules governing the local court systems must be left up to the states themselves. It is incredibly inconsistent for some to claim to support federalism while at the same time arguing that rules about every state court system should be dictated by members of Congress in Washington.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Civil Justice System Helps Prevent Illinois Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing Home Victims Explain Consequences of Tort Reform Laws

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