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Anthony Kennedy on Health Care

Supreme Court Justice (nominated by Pres. Reagan 1988)


ObamaCare not ok under Commerce Clause, but ok as tax

Back on March 27, Roberts and Kennedy were very skeptical of the thrust of the government's case--that the mandate was justified under the so-called "commerce clause" of the Constitution and the government's right to regulate markets--especially how it could be limited to the health care market.

The government's lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, made a strong case for the government's taxing power. While the taxing power argument was certainly not the focus of post-oral arguments analyses, it was the one that eventually won the day--that the mandate would be administered by the Internal Revenue Service, the agency responsible for taxation. Verrilli said, "It is administered by the IRS; it is paid on your Form 1040 on April 15th," when pressed by Roberts.

Some of the toughest questioning came as it related to the president arguing the mandate was not a tax. But Verrilli countered that it's up to the court to decide what's justified under the law, not the rhetoric of politicians.

Source: MSNBC's First Read: "How Verilli Won Over Roberts" , Jun 29, 2012

ObamaCare should be justified by other Constitutional powers

[Regarding ObamaCare's individual mandate, Kennedy said,] "When the inquiry is whether a federal law has sufficient links to an enumerated power to be within the scope of federal power, the analysis depends not on the number of links in the congressional power chain but on the strength of the chain." Kennedy signaled his openness to arguments supporting federal power if they are justified in terms of enumerated congressional powers such as the regulation of interstate commerce and the power to tax. ˙
Source: Frank Colucci in The New Republic, "Inside the Mind" , Mar 28, 2011

States cannot ban cigarette ads near schools

The Supreme Court handed the tobacco industry a major victory over state efforts to restrict tobacco advertising, striking down Massachusetts regulations that would have banned such advertising near playgrounds and schools. Massachusetts had argued that the rules were necessary to prevent tobacco makers from inducing children to try a highly addictive and hazardous substance. But the court, dividing 5 to 4, agreed with the industry that the state could not adopt restrictions on top of those imposed by federal law. In addition, the court said, the rules infringed on freedom of speech.

The court’s decision effectively prevents state and local governments from unilaterally adding regulations on cigarette advertising, as many have attempted to do in recent years. Justice O’Connor wrote-with Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas concurring-that federal law “places limits on policy choices available to the States.” The cases are Lorillard v. Reilly, 00-596, and Altadis USA v. Reilly, 00-597.

Source: Charles Lane, Washington Post, p. A1 , Jun 29, 2001

States have no authority to protect patient rights.

Justice Kennedy joined the dissent on Rush Prudential HMO v. Moran on Jun 20, 2002:

Petitioner Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. provides medical services for employee welfare benefits plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), denied respondent Moran's request to have surgery on the ground that the procedure was not medically necessary. Moran made a written demand for an independent medical review of her claim, as guaranteed by Illinois' HMO Act. Rush refused her demand

HELD: Delivered by Souter, joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Ginsburg, Breyer

In 5-4 decision, justices uphold Illinois state law that requires health maintenance organizations to provide for independent review in disputed cases where physician-prescribed treatment is being denied by HMO. Although Congress has yet to enact a patients' bill of rights that would include the right to independent review, 42 states and the District of Columbia currently have medical review laws. Congress has long recognized that HMOs are risk-bearing organizations subject to state regulation. Finally, allowing States to regulate the insurance aspects of HMOs will not interfere with the desire of Congress for uniform national standards under ERISA.

DISSENT: Dissent by Thomas, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy

This Court has repeatedly recognized that ERISA's civil enforcement provision provides the exclusive vehicle for actions asserting a claim for benefits under health plans governed by ERISA, and therefore that state laws that create additional remedies are pre-empted. Such exclusivity of remedies is necessary to further Congress' interest in establishing a uniform federal law of employee benefits so that employers are encouraged to provide benefits to their employees. Independent review provisions could create a disincentive to the formation of employee health benefit plans. This is a judgment that must be made by Congress. I respectfully dissent.
Source: Supreme Court case 02-MORAN argued on Jan 16, 2002

Federal government decides insurance issues, not states.

Justice Kennedy joined the dissent on Empire HealthChoice Assurance v. McVeigh on Jun 15, 2006:

A 5-4 Court decided that federal jurisdiction does not extend to controversies over insurance contracts under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act. Thus, state courts are the proper venue for contract disputes arising between federal employees and insurance companies, which may result in inconsistent outcomes across states.

Empire Healthchoice Assurance sued the estate of a deceased federal employee who received $157,000 in insurance benefits as the result of an injury. The wife of this federal employee had won $3.2 million in a separate lawsuit; Empire Healthchoice claimed reimbursement because the beneficiary was compensated for the same injury by a third party.

HELD: Ginsburg, joined by Roberts, Stevens, Scalia, and Thomas

The Court ruled that under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act, state courts, not federal courts, are the proper forum for a contracts lawsuit by a plan administrator seeking reimbursement for medical costs. Empire, the Court ruled, had not demonstrated a "significant conflict between an identifiable federal policy or interest and the operation of state law."

DISSENT: Breyer, joined by Kennedy, Souter, and Alito

The dissenting opinion asserted that the dispute should have been deliberated at the federal level because, in part, "there is little about this case that is not federal."

ORIGINAL HOLDING: Sotomayor

Judge Sotomayor, then on the Second Circuit prior to her Supreme Court nomination, found no federal jurisdiction because Empire failed to show that New York state law "significantly conflicts" with federal interests. The Supreme Court affirmed Sotomayor's decision.
Source: Supreme Court case 06-MCVEIGH argued on Apr 25, 2006

Federal law pre-empts state laws on generic drug warning.

Justice Kennedy joined the Court's decision on PLIVA v. MENSING on Jun 23, 2011:

Plaintiffs were prescribed a brand name drug for which pharmacists substituted a generic drug, which the FDA had approved under the process federal law authorized for generics. Plaintiffs were diagnosed with a disorder linked to the extended use of the drug. They filed state tort law claims against the manufacturers of the generics, alleging failures to label their products with a warning of known risks. The generics carried the same warnings as the brand name and, the manufacturers argued, since federal regulations required the generics to have the same warnings as the brand name, compliance with a state law requiring different warnings was impossible.

HELD: Delivered by Thomas; joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy & Alito

Generic manufacturers were forbidden to change unilaterally the label warning of the drug. Plaintiffs argued that the manufacturers could have complied with both state and federal law by following the process federal regulations set out of proposing stronger warnings to the FDA (which they did not), after which the FDA might have decided to negotiate a label change with the brand name manufacturer that the generic manufacturers would have been required to adopt. The Court found that
  1. state law required a stronger warning
  2. federal law prohibited a stronger warning, and
  3. requesting the FDA to authorize a stronger warning
was not enough to comply with state law requiring a stronger warning. Federal and state laws conflict when it is impossible to do what both laws require. It was impossible for the generic manufacturers to comply with both laws. Since federal law preempts conflicting state law, the manufacturers may not be sued on these state law claims.

DISSENT: Sotomayor dissents; joined by Ginsburg, Breyer & Kagan

Congress could not have intended the result that brand name drug consumers may sue manufacturers for failure to warn, while the much larger class of generic drug consumers may not.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-PLIVA argued on Mar 30, 2011

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Other Justices on Health Care: Anthony Kennedy on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

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Sandra Day O'Connor
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Page last updated: Mar 08, 2014