Federal Judge Tosses Ron Johnson’s Obamacare Lawsuit

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 21, 2014 at 8:32pm

A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.  

The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.  

Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers .  

In making his judgement, Griesbach worked through several arguments that explained how the Office of Personnel Management regulation harmed the plaintiffs, finding none of them persuasive.  

“The question of the legality of the regulation has not been determined yet; although Plaintiffs believe the regulation is unlawful, such a belief cannot be enough to create standing because that would open the door to any uninjured party who had a generalized grievance with a government regulation,” the judge wrote. “Under such an approach, there would be no principled limit on standing because a plaintiff need only allege a belief that the challenged regulation is illegal.”  

Griesbach also dismissed the idea that the subsidized health care itself constituted an injury, rather than a benefit.  

“Even assuming that one or both Plaintiffs selected a Gold-tier plan on the DC SHOP Exchange and received the subsidy as allowed under the OPM rule, it is hard to understand how this would constitute an ‘injury’ to either person,” Griesbach wrote.  

Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, responded to the judge’s ruling in a statement highlighting that the court did not reach the substantive question in the case, dismissing it (as the Obama administration had argued it should be) based on lack of standing.  

“The Obama administration violated its own signature health care law by giving special treatment to members of Congress and their staffs. I believe that this executive action by the Obama administration is unlawful and unfair, and that it is only one of many examples of this president’s abuse of his constitutional duty,” Johnson said in a statement. “Unfortunately, those actions will go unchallenged for now, because the district court granted the administration’s motion to dismiss based on the legal technicality of standing.”  

Johnson was not prepared to announce a next move as of Monday evening. Another senator, Republican David Vitter of Louisiana, has pursued the issue from a different angle , regularly seeking votes on an amendment that could negate the OPM rule.  

“Americans increasingly — and correctly — believe that their government in Washington is out of control, out of touch and lawless. By its decision today, the court has chosen not to address the important constitutional issues at hand. My legal team and I will carefully review the decision before determining our next step in this important constitutional dispute,” Johnson said.  

“First, there is nothing in the Constitution stipulating that all wrongs must have remedies, much less that the remedy must lie in federal court,” Griesbach wrote. “In fact, given the Constitution’s parsimonious grant of judicial authority, just the opposite is true.”