Dorothy Ann Finch and others v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority
Decision challenging restriction of health benefits provided by the State to legal immigrants. Equal protection, immigration law, and social welfare.
Petitioners challenged the 2009 decision of the State of Massachusetts to exclude a group of legal immigrants from its Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program. Plaintiffs alleged that such exclusion violated the Equal Protection Clause recognized by the Constitution of Massachusetts.
Under U.S. law, the U.S. Congress has broad discretion to make distinctions between citizens and non-citizens based on its plenary power over naturalization and immigration, but States do not have that same discretion. The State of Massachusetts argued, however, that it had broad discretion and that its decision to exclude the group of legal immigrants from benefits should not be subject to a higher threshold of review, known as strict scrutiny.
The Court determined that legal immigrants were a protected class under the State Constitution, which requires a compelling governmental interest for excluding the plaintiffs from the full benefit of the health care program. The Court found that the exclusion was imposed to cover an unforeseen revenue shortfall and a financial crisis, and specifically held that financial consequences alone can never be a compelling governmental interest for purposes of strict scrutiny review. Finally, the Court held that the exclusion was not narrowly tailored to the policy that the State had articulated because the method by which they enacted the exclusion of the immigrants did not reflect a “‘serious, good faith consideration’ of ‘workable’ nondiscriminatory alternatives that will achieve the Legislature’s goals.”
Keywords: Dorothy Ann Finch and others v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, Health, Right
Because the case was determined on state constitutional grounds, there can be no further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, so this judgment stands as the final judgment on this aspect of the case. The Commonwealth complied with the Court’s decision.
Approximately 44,000 immigrants lost their access to Commonwealth Care as a result of the legislative action and, if still eligible, will be reinstated, restoring the near universality of health coverage for all but undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts. This decision affirms that immigrants are entitled to constitutional protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the State Constitution and that, where the federal government has defined accepted categories of discriminatory treatment by a uniform federal law, any discrimination at the State level will be subject to strict scrutiny. Most importantly, this case affirms that financial concerns do not justify discrimination under the standard of strict scrutiny. As the court stated: “”the fiscal consequences of any…judgment on the merits cannot be permitted to intrude on consideration of the case before us…[M]inorities rely on the independence of the courts to secure their constitutional rights against incursions of the majority, operating through the political branches of government.”