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Johnson loses legal fight

July 22, 2014 | 0 comments

WASHINGTON, DC

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who got elected to the U.S. Senate as a strong opponent of the Affordable Care Act (what many call Obamacare) this week lost his bid to question one aspect of the health care program in court.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin issued a decision on Monday (July 21) denying Johnson's legal "standing" and dismissing the case he brought attacking the health care law.

Johnson, a Republican, had argued that when the government required lawmakers and their staff members to purchase insurance through the health care exchanges and offered them a subsidy to do so, that it was illegal.

In his ruling, Judge William Griesbach said that the dispute over the health care law should be decided in Congress rather than in court.

"The dispute must be left to the Nation's elected leaders who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them," Griesbach noted in his 20-page ruling.

The court heard two hours of verbal arguments on the case earlier this month in Green Bay.

"Congress itself is surely not helpless," the judge said in his ruling Monday.

Johnson had filed his suit in January after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said that it would move lawmakers and staffers off the federal health care plan and offer subsidies to those people when they got enrolled with the health care exchanges.

Griesbach, who was appointed by George W. Bush, said lawmakers must be involved in solving the questions over the health care policy.

One question in the lawsuit was whether or not Johnson was an injured party under the decision. The judge ruled he was not, saying courts have the responsibility to help when there are true injuries.

But under the Constitution and without injury to a party that can be addressed by the courts, disputes between the executive and legislative branches over the exercise of their powers "are to be resolved through the political process – not by decisions issued by federal judges," Griesbach said in his decision.

Johnson had argued that he was injured in that the policy put him at an unfair disadvantage with his constituents and that allowing the government to contribute to staff health care costs was illegal.

The Constitution "wisely reserves judicial authority" said Griesbach, by forbidding judges from deciding disputes unless the plaintiff is actually "injured in some concrete, discernable way.

"It ensures that we act as judges and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives."

Griesbach said that Johnson's contention that any divisiveness in the workplace brought on by the OPM move would be a "purely speculative injury."

Johnson had also argued that he would be injured by being required to participate in conduct he believes is damaging to his reputation.

"It is difficult to envision why many constituents would view the Senator unfavorably given that he vehemently opposed the OPM rule and has even brought a federal lawsuit to overturn it," the judge said in his ruling.

Monthly premiums

One of Johnson's legal arguments was that lawmakers staff got preferential treatment when the OPM said it would offer subsidies to help pay for monthly premiums.

Though Johnson's case was dismissed, several other cases – mostly recently the Hobby Lobby case – have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Others are still working their way through the court system.

Greisbach ordered Johnson's case dismissed, but the Senator said he may decide to appeal that decision.

"The Obama administration violated its own signature health care law by giving special treatment to members of Congress and their staffs," Johnson said in a statement following the decision.

"I believe that this executive action by the Obama administration is unlawful and unfair, and that it is only one of many examples of this president's abuse of his constitutional duty.

"Unfortunately, those actions will go unchallenged for now, because the district court granted the administration's motion to dismiss based on the legal technicality of standing," he added.

In his case, Johnson had contended that the move from the administration violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution in that it unfairly treats members of Congress.

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