This was fairly big news today: PA Governor Corbett lost another one in court, at least for now. As the Inquirer’s Amy Worden describes it in “Pa. court: Reinstate health-care funding for the poor,” 3/6/13:
A state judge has ordered the Corbett administration to reinstate funding for programs that provided health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians.
In his ruling Tuesday, Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini found that two statutes that stripped money from the adultBasic and Medicaid programs were unconstitutional because they diverted money from the federal tobacco settlement to finance items other than health care in the general budget….
Good for Judge Pellegrini! I say this for two reasons:
1) I believe that the working poor deserve the state’s help in getting health insurance and health care, since their employer is not helping.
On November 5, 2012, I posted “AdultBasic and the 41,000 Pennsylvanians who lost health insurance in 2011,”, an interview with José Parra, a resident of Phoenixville who was deprived of adultBasic coverage. Sad to say, his employer is a community college, which pays him too little to pay for health insurance and does not give him coverage.
As with the many Walmart employees who qualify for Medicare and food stamps, we are talking here about workers who would be greatly helped by a rise in the minimum wage and by national health insurance.
My 11/5/12 post cites a 9/5/11 article by William Caroselli, whose firm won the judgment against the state. He pretty well summed up the situation this way:
On Feb. 28, our elected officials refused to continue using tobacco settlement money, not taxpayer money, to fund the adultBasic health care program, eliminating a successful, effective health care program, and taking away the only health care option available to many of Pennsylvania’s working poor.
As José Parra told me, “Everybody is entitled to the right to a doctor and have medical needs met.” For thousands of people like him, the removal of adultBasic violated that right.
While preparing that interview, I contacted Mr Caroselli’s office, and he kindly wrote back saying, in part:
Although there is an automatic appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and it is unknown what that Court will do with the appeal, we believe that the Commonwealth Court will grant the Plaintiff’s Motion for Special Relief and again declare that the termination of the adultBasic Program was unconstitutional. We are hoping that the decision from the Commonwealth Court will occur some time in March of 2013.
It increases one’s confidence in the legal profession to see such an accurate prediction more than 4 mnths in advance!
2) My second reason for applauding: the rule of law.
I find this statement particularly objectionable, as quoted in the Inquirer article today:
An attorney for House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), one of the defendants, used tougher language, saying his client would try to get the ruling overturned. “If the court wants to start appropriating money,” said Dave Thomas, “then they should resign from the bench and they should run for the legislature.”
Judge Pellegrini is not appropriating money, he is saying that the governor broke the law by violating a signed agreement embodied in a law, as as clear from the Inquirer:
Caroselli’s firm sued, calling the administration’s move a “blatant violation” of the Pennsylvania Tobacco Settlement Act, which directs that money from the 1998 settlement of suits against cigarette makers be “used to make Pennsylvanians healthier and provide for the health of future generations of Pennsylvanians.” The act specified that 30 percent of the proceeds would be shared between adultBasic Insurance and Medicaid for workers with disabilities.
Now this raises the question of government accountability when personnel changes. Is a new administration free to ignore binding agreements made by a prior administration? Not that I know of.
Let’s look at the drone issue as another case in point. Some members of both parties are trying to find out what the Obama administration’s policy is on using drones to attack individuals, including American citizens within the U.S. According to Jon Swaine’s article “Barack Obama ‘has authority to use drone strikes to kill Americans on US soil,'” The Telegraph, 3/6/13:
Mr Holder stressed in his letter that the prospect of a president considering the assassination of an American citizen on US soil was “entirely hypothetical” and “unlikely to occur”.
Yet “it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorise the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” he wrote….
You can see why some members of Congress–especially those dedicated to the letter of the U.S constitution–are uneasy.
Whatever the current administration might understand by “extraordinary circumstance,” would the next administration be bound by it? Can President X just decree, like Governor Corbett, that something is too expensive, or too inconvenient, or whatever, maybe invoking the 37th president, Richard Nixon, who said: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”? Yes, fittingly, it’s on tape, in his interview with David Frost aired on 5/19/1977.
Whatever one’s view of the drone question, you’d think members of Congress would look for more than an “agreement” by a currently serving president. They should pass a law to reaffirm that, with regard to the government killing people in the U.S., indeed “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…” (5th Amendment).
And even then… that’s what people had in the tobacco settlement, a law. And then a new Governor–a former Attorney General, no less–came along and said, essentially: Oh no, that law doesn’t suit me.
Whether we are on the right or the left politically, without the rule of law, we have no legal rights and no duly enacted policies. And if the state doesn’t understand that, it’s the role of the courts to straighten it out. And it’s a lot easier to do that when there is a law than an “agreement.”
The bottom line does remain legislative, it seems. According to the AP story “Judge directs Pa. tobacco fund to health coverage” at PennLive, 3/5/13:
Pellegrini wrote that some tobacco money must go to adultBasic unless the Legislature changes state law accordingly.
I guess that’s the best one can do. If the legislative branch passes a law, it can undo it. but the Governor and President can’t–not legally, that is.
Update 3/7/13: AG Holder now says: “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no. The answer to that question is no” (The Hill, 3/7/13. But the question remains: Can a future president or AG see it differently? And what, by the way, does “not engaged in combat” mean? I still think, if legislators are serious about making decisions in what they see as the public interest, they would want a law.