July 23, 2014

Van Hollen argues no fundamental right to same sex marriage

Wisconsin’s attorney general claims there’s no fundamental right for the state to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples.

In a 188-page filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require the state to give same sex couples the right to marriage. As a result, he says last month’s decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb against Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned.

Van Hollen said Crabb’s decision amounts to the creation of a new right to gay marriage, and it wrongly extends federal authority into an area normally handled by the states. He compares the issue to how the courts have handled abortion restrictions, such as cases where judges have upheld restriction on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions. “Although the constitutional right of privacy protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion and precludes government from prohibiting or punishing her exercise of that right, there is no corresponding obligation on government to affirmatively endorse or
support her exercise of the abortion right.”

The appeals court is considering the Wisconsin challenge in combination with a similar decision in Indiana, which also overturned that state’s gay marriage ban. Judges are expected to hear the cases next month.

Court rulings cause confusion on ObamaCare subsidies

A pair of federal court rulings on Tuesday are causing some uncertainty over whether those buying insurance through federal health exchange will continue to qualify for subsidies.

In one case, an appeals court in the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the residents of 36 states that rely on the federal exchange do not qualify for subsidies. However, in a ruling in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just hours later, judge said subsidies are available to all residents who qualify for them, regardless of whether an exchange is state-based or run by the federal government. Wisconsin is one of the three dozen states that uses the federal exchange.

A spokesperson for Governor Scott Walker called the D.C. ruling an example of “how irresponsible it is to pass a law without knowing what is in it and what its impact will be on hard-working Americans. The federal government’s one size fits all approach is unsustainable.”

While both cases are likely to face more appeals and the District of Columbia ruling did not include an injunction, Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin says now may be a good time for states like Wisconsin, which relies on the federal exchange, to revisit their decision. He says “a lot of people are depending on the subsides to make health care affordable,” and any decision to uphold the D.C. ruling could make it difficult for about 4.5 million people nationwide to continue paying for coverage. Kraig says Wisconsin already had a prototype for a state-based exchange developed, and it would “really behoove state officials to start looking at that, just in case.”

About 130,000 Wisconsin residents signed up for coverage through the federal exchange. Of those, Kraig says “many” are receiving some form of subsidy to help pay for their insurance, based on their incomes.

Federal judge dimisses Johnson lawsuit

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

A federal judge in Green Bay is throwing out a lawsuit against provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which was filed by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, argued that an ObamaCare rule forced him to treat his staff differently. Judge William Griesbach ruled Monday that Johnson and his aide Brooke Ericson did not have legal grounds to file the lawsuit, because they did not prove they were hurt personally.

Johnson was challenging a requirement that lawmakers and their official staff members use the ObamaCare exchanges to get their tax-subsidized health insurance. Those who are not official office staff still get their previous employee health benefits.

Johnson argued the rule forced him to choose which staff members are official and which are not. He also claimed that he was being forced to take part in a program he believes is illegal, and he would look bad to voters because his staff would get tax subsidies the general public does not receive.

Griesbach says Johnson’s beliefs about the legality of ObamaCare are not enough to win his lawsuit; and neither was the claim that voters would see him in a negative light.

Johnson said it was unfortunate that the judge dropped his lawsuit on a technicality, without going into the legal merits of it. His office says Johnson is consulting with lawyers before deciding whether to appeal.

Missing Manitowoc man and son found in Mexico

File photo

File photo

Authorities have located a Manitowoc man in Mexico, who police say fled the country with his son earlier this month to avoid reckless homicide charges.

Manitowoc Police Captain Scott Luchterhand says 57-year-old Timothy Miller, and his 14-year-old son Devin, were found safe and sound Thursday, just across the border from Laredo, Texas. Miller did not have legal custody of his son, and Luchterhand says he had been on the run since a visitation with the boy before the Fourth of July holiday.

Luchterhand says the FBI was instrumental in tracking Miller down and will assist with bringing him back to Wisconsin to face charges. He says it remains unclear how soon Miller will be extradited back to the United States.

Miller is charged in the February fentanyl-related death of 39-year-old Victor Gadzinski.


Court clarifies state law on abortion pills

A judge is providing more clarity on a 2012 state law that deals with prescribing medications that can cause an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin challenged the law that requires doctors to meet in-person with a patient when prescribing drugs designed to terminate a pregnancy. CEO Teri Huyck says they were worried it also required doctors to be present when women took the medication, which is a problem because they usually require two doses. Hyuck says “the law was so vague, we weren’t sure how to comply with it.” She says the group worried that could result in criminal penalties or fines for their doctors.

The law is aimed at preventing so-called webcam abortions, a practice where doctors prescribe the drugs from another location. Those were not being used in Wisconsin prior to the bill’s passage, but Republicans and pro-life groups worried the method of consultation could make its way here in the future.

A Dane County judge issued a decision Thursday clarifying the law only applies to when an abortion-inducing drug is prescribed, and that doctors do not have to be present when the medications are taken. Hyuck applauded the decision, saying “we now know that our physicians don’t have to worry about being sent to jail.”

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen was critical of Planned Parenthood for taking the issue to court, saying the judge’s decision affirmed what his office has said all along. In a statement, Van Hollen said “The decision is in accord with what the law is and what this office has always said the law is. No one ever tried to enforce the law differently. Planned Parenthood’s case was a frivolous action from the beginning, first in their dismissed federal case and now this case. Courts of law shouldn’t be stages for political theater funded by taxpayer dollars, but that’s the bill that Planned Parenthood has rung up.”