Local Group Gets Behind President on Health Care


A local Jewish group has weighed in on the side of the Obama administration in the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that will examine the constitutionality of the landmark 2010 health care law.

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network — a group that brings a liberal, Jewish slant to domestic policy issues — signed on to an amicus, or friend of the court, brief supporting key provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Such briefs typically try to make a point that's not being argued by the litigants themselves in an effort to influence the judges' thinking.

JSPAN has filed more than a dozen briefs in cases heard in federal appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. For years, the American Jewish Congress — which disbanded in 2010 — was the Jewish group best known for filing amicus briefs, and many JSPAN members were formerly active in the now-defunct group.

The 21-page brief was spearheaded by the Boston-based Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action; JSPAN joined on and added some of the language.

Most major Jewish organizations have been hesitant to take a stand on a law that passed along partisan lines and is sure to be a major issue in this year's presidential election. No other Jewish groups filed a brief in this case, according to Ken Myers, vice president of JSPAN.

The court has set aside three days in late March to hear oral arguments in the case known as Department of Health and Human Services, et al v. State of Florida. Experts say that it's been decades since the court allocated that much time for arguments, giving a hint as to the gravity of the case.

At the heart of the legal challenge being posed by 26 states, including Pennsylvania, is the stipulation that requires most Americans to either buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the government. Myers said it is not clear at this point whether the whole law would be voided if the mandate portion is declared unconstitutional.

"This is one of the most important cases the Supreme Court is likely to decide in this decade," Myers said. "The law is a product of about 50 years of trying to come closer to universal health care, but if this case is not won by the government, all that effort may well unravel."

Richard Malkin, a retired pediatrician who sits on JSPAN's board, helped research the first portion of the brief, which discusses the Jewish interest in health care. Malkin said rabbinic and more modern sources offer proof that Jewish tradition looks upon health care as a collective responsibility.

The bulk of the brief is devoted to making a constitutional argument. The legal challenges have focused on the question of whether or not Congress exceeded its authority as spelled out under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The Obama administration's lawyers have been working to counteract this argument.

Myers said the JSPAN brief instead examines the question of rights, and whether or not individual and states' rights are infringed upon by being required to purchase insurance or pay a fine.

Myers said that "our brief makes a strong case that both states' rights and individual rights are well protected under the law."


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