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COLUMN: Zoeller: Courts must hold Congress’ authority in check

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By GREG ZOELLER, Indiana Attorney General

On Nov. 14, the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear five-and-a-half hours of oral argument on a lawsuit brought by 26 states, including Indiana, challenging the constitutionality of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Many people have asked why I oppose the new federal health-care law and I have gone out of my way to speak to those who support the new federal program and explain my decision to join the multistate lawsuit.  

First, I agree that the nation’s health-care system is unsustainable as currently constituted and I wholeheartedly support reforming it. But as Indiana’s attorney general, I do not get to vote yes or no on any legislation. That is the role of the legislative branch: our Indiana General Assembly at the state level and our members of Congress at the federal level.  

Second, it is my role, under my oath of office as attorney general, to uphold the U.S. Constitution. And when an unprecedented exercise of federal authority threatens to injure our state, my obligation includes asking the courts to decide whether Congress has exceeded its powers. To me this is an important obligation unique to the role of the attorney general, who defends state sovereignty in an effort to protect individual liberty.  

It is important to note that in bringing this lawsuit, the states showed respect for both Congress and the federal courts. We respect the laws enacted by Congress, as well as the need for states to prepare to implement the very significant requirements of the Affordable Care Act if ultimately it is found to be enforceable.

We also are respectful of the heavy burdens already borne by the federal courts, which is why the states brought all of our claims within a single lawsuit rather than in 26 separate ones, as we would have been within our rights to do. 

But this respect does not require states to simply trust Congress not to exceed its constitutionally-limited authority.

Citizens can bring legal challenges against state laws to ensure our state legislature has not exceeded its authority.

Likewise, states can challenge federal laws Congress has passed. This legal test of the new federal law before the U.S. Supreme Court is a safeguard not only of our state’s pocketbook but also of all our rights and liberties.

A nation that protects liberty by dividing and limiting government cannot permit unchecked, unprecedented and unconstitutional expansions of federal authority, no matter how seemingly necessary the reform legislation might seem at the moment.   

Zoeller is Indiana’s attorney general.