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Liberals argue for health bill's legality

From NBC's Charlie Specht
In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, lawyers from the Center for American Progress and the American Constitution Society argued that the recently passed health-care law stands firmly on constitutional grounds.

"This whole campaign challenging the constitutionality is just the latest chapter in conservative right-wing scare tactics designed to frighten people," said Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel to the National Senior Citizens Law Center. "It really is a natural heir to the death panels, the natural heir to the government takeover. Frankly they're embarrassing from a legal standpoint. I am confident they will be summarily dismissed by even conservative federal judges."

Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean and distinguished professor of law at University of California-Irvine School of Law, said public opinion doesn't determine constitutionality. 

"It's so important to separate what's desirable over what's constitutional," he said. "I think a lot of the public rhetoric is about its wrong to force people to purchase insurance. I think any court would find this is reasonable. Virtually every person at some point will need medical care. The main argument is that this exceeds the scope of Congress' power."

That power, specifically the commerce clause of the Constitution, gives Congress the right "to regulate commerce…among the several states." While opponents have argued that a person not purchasing health insurance doesn't affect commerce, and therefore shouldn't be subject to the tax levied on those not purchasing insurance, Chemerinsky thought otherwise.

"This has an over $1 billion economic effect," he said. "Not purchasing health care is an important economic activity. The question is (does) this economic activity across the country have a substantial effect on the entire economy? I think that answer is yes."

As for the legal challenge Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli announced he would file against the law, Lazarus said it wouldn't hold weight.

"The attorneys general don't have a right to challenge," he said. "Only individuals who have to pay a penalty fours years from now, if that comes to pass, will have a say in this."

And while states like Virginia can't block the implementation of federal law, lawyer Robert Shapiro said attorneys general can only argue how the law will affect their states.

"The only kind of claim attorneys general have is how their states are being affected," he said.