Coakley v. Cuccinelli: Attorneys General Debate The Health Law

State attorneys general Martha Coakley and Ken Cuccinelli won’t be arguing the constitutionality of the 2010 health law before the Supreme Court in late March, but they brought their opposing cases before the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday.

As part of the club’s Newsmaker program, Massachusetts’ Coakley and Virginia’s Cuccinelli argued over various aspects of the law but mostly its individual mandate. Cuccinelli was the first of 27 state attorneys general to bring a case against the 2010 law; Virginia, however, is not included in the suit the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider. Coakley became Massachusetts’ attorney general shortly after that state enacted its own health law, which also included an individual mandate.

“Governor Romney, at the time, certainly not only thought that that individual mandate was constitutional — he believed it was good public policy,” Coakley said, drawing in Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. “Many of us in Massachusetts still think that it is [good policy.]”

Coakley said 70 years of Supreme Court precedent has affirmed Congress’ constitutional ability to regulate interstate commerce, like the health care market. All individuals will at some point participate in that market, she added, asserting that the mandate is “necessary and proper” for the health law’s enactment.

Cuccinelli argued that the court faces a case about individual liberty, not about health care. He said that Congress does indeed have the power to regulate commerce, but it does not have power to command or compel individuals to enter the health care market.