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Does It Really Matter Who the Defendant Is?

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Almost as soon as the health reform legislation was passed, opponents mobilized to see where the weaknesses were and call the new law into question. And, like many conservatives before them, they found the answer in the one place where Americans most hate to see their rights being messed with: the Constitution.

Back in May, two separate groups – the U.S. Citizens Association and a group of 17 state attorneys general across the country – challenged the constitutionality of the newly passed Patient Provider and Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the attorneys general say that the insurance mandate (the part of the law which requires that all citizens have health insurance) is against the commerce clause of the Constitution, because it regulates both economic activity and economic inactivity.

The attorneys general moved to court, led by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli. Recently, however, secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius claims that the lawsuit should be thrown out because Cuccinelli named the wrong defendants in the case.

The case, which was brought against Sebelius, should have been brought against the Secretary of the Treasury. According to Sebelius, she doesn’t have the power to oversee the mandate and therefore is the wrong defendant.

“The secretary of the Treasury is primarily responsible for the administration of the minimum coverage provision that the plaintiff seeks to challenge,” Sebelius said.

Cuccinelli has not listed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as a defendant in the suit.

So, is this a deal-breaker? Could the constitutionality argument crumble because the attorneys general named the wrong defendant? It’s possible. Court cases have collapsed as a result of less. However, it turns out that government attorneys generally don’t make a big deal out of situations like this – and they happen a lot more frequently than you would think, particularly when the defendant is a government or a representative of the government. Corrective action can be taken, if it’s necessary, and in the end the case can move forward.

It seems, then, that Sebelius is out of luck again, and the suit will likely move forward.


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