March 23, 2010— -- The ink on President Obama's signature was barely dry when attorneys general in 14 states filed papers in federal court today challenging the constitutionality of the newly signed health care bill.
"We are convinced that this legislation is fundamentally flawed as a matter of constitutional law, that it exceeds the scope of proper constitutional authority of the federal government and tramples upon the rights and prerogatives of states and their citizens," David Rivkin, Jr., an attorney representing 13 of the states, told ABC News.
The challenges to the legislation focus on the mandate that requires an individual to buy health insurance. The states are also worried about the extent to which the statute imposes a financial burden -- in resources and personnel -- on them.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is leading the attack for 13 of the states and filed papers in the Northern District of Florida shortly after noon today.
More states are expected to file in the days and weeks to come.
"We simply cannot afford the things that are in this bill that we're mandated to do," McCollum, who is running for governor of Florida, said at a press conference this afternoon. "It's not realistic. It's not hype, it's just very, very wrong."
McCollum said he's confident the case will go before the U.S. Supreme Court and that the states will prevail.
"There's no provision in the Constitution that allows for anybody to be forced to do something when there's no commerce, no action, you're just sitting there," McCollum said of the insurance mandate. "And [the lawsuit] is about the question of forcing the state of Florida and other states, against the sovereignty that's guaranteed in the Constitution to our states, to do things that are practically impossible to do."
Attorneys general from South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho and South Dakota joined Florida in the suit.
Virginia filed a separate suit in federal court in Richmond because it has a state statute on the books worded specifically to block such a mandate.
"It really is nothing more than a wholesale takeover of large portions of state institutions and programs," said Rivkin.
Some legal experts believe the legislation will initially survive constitutional challenges, because there is a long line of precedent dating back to the New Deal allowing Congress to regulate economic activity.
"Congress has the power to require the individual mandate under the commerce clause," said Yale Law professor Jack Balkin, who runs the popular legal Web site Balkinization. "That is because Congress can regulate economic activities that have a cumulative economic effect on interstate commerce."
On "Good Morning America," senior White House adviser David Axelrod said he's confident the law will withstand legal challenges. "It was crafted in a way to do so," he said. "We're not concerned about these lawsuits."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC News' Diane Sawyer yesterday that "the Congress legislates, the White House -- the executive branch enforces and the Supreme Court, the judiciary, interprets. We feel very confident about our legislation."
State Legislatures to Challenge Health Care Law
In addition to constitutional challenges to the law, legislators in at least 36 states are attempting to limit, alter or oppose some of its provisions through state constitutional amendments or laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Many of the proposals seek to keep health insurance coverage optional for individuals and exempt employers from penalties if they don't offer coverage for workers.
Earlier this month, Virginia and Idaho became the first states to enact laws specifically stating that health insurance coverage is not required.
Still, many legal experts say these legislative efforts will ultimately be trumped by the so-called supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution, which says federal laws "shall be the supreme law of the land."
"State law cannot nullify federal law," Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a health law expert at Washington and Lee University School of Law, writes in the New England Journal of Medicine. "This principle is simply beyond debate, and state legislators, many of them lawyers, know that. The purpose of these laws, therefore, is not legal but rather political