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Obamacare Ruling Questions Federal Mandates Attached to State Funding, Opens Constitutional Challenge to State DUI Laws

In the wake of the Obamacare Supreme Court decision, the leverage given to the federal government to dictate state policy through funding may be weakened. Currently, the federal government uses the prospect of funding to influence state law. For instance, it’s up to a state legislature to decide the legal drinking age, driving age, and legal BAC limit for DUI, but to receive federal funding for certain initiatives there’s an understanding that the states must follow the federal government’s lead.

A major tenet in the Obamacare law was that states were “asked” to expand their Medicaid programs. If they complied, the federal government would provide increased funding to aid the expansion. If not, the government could reduce the state’s current Medicaid funding. This particular attempt at federal encouragement was rebuked by the Supreme Court in their ruling. Siding with the States’ argument that that congress had “crossed the line distinguishing encouragement from coercion,” New York v. the United States, 505 U. S, the Supreme court said that since the expansion of Medicaid is so large and the provision in question does not only restrict but threaten the exemption of existing funds, such a provision is unconstitutional.

In comparison, in South Dakota v. Dole – 483 U.S. 203 (1987) the congress directed that unless States increased the drinking age to 21, they would withhold 5% of funding for highway maintenance. At the time, 5% of funding for highway maintenance amounted to about .5% of South Dakota’s entire budget. Medicaid, on average, amounts to about 20% of state budgets, and the prospect of losing those funds for non-compliance with Obamacare’s Medicaid funding provision was deemed too steep of a directive. As evidence, the Supreme Court supplies a distinction between congressional encouragement and coercion, but the Obamacare decision could still call into question the constitutionality of other measures, like the .08 BAC legal limit, mandated to states through the prospect of federal funding.

Despite the issue of who is truly accountable for the enactment of such federally leveraged policies, there is also the issue of enforcement. As the Georgia Court of Appeals noted this year in Crtsty v. State, a police officer is not responsible for if a law is constitutional or not. He or she is only required to enforce the law as directed. In The Telegraph, David Oedel expresses a concern as to how this lack of responsibility may influence the now infamous initial DUI investigation of Judge Simms of Bibb County.

Simms was stopped at a roadblock and prompted to blow into a preliminary breath test machine. According to the police report, he blew a .083, which would have triggered an arrest or a further investigation. Reportedly, Judge Simms informed the officers of his position and lobbied to let him drive home – the officers obeyed. While Judge Simms is not facing formal charges, Oedel contests that in accordance with the curtailed federal leverage in controlling state policies resulting from the Obamacare ruling, Simms could have challenged the constitutionality of the arrest. Of course, there were many other ways in which Simms could have built a strong defense for a DUI arrest. Initially, he could have questioned the legitimacy of the roadblock or the accuracy of the hand-held breath test machine. But Oedel’s larger point is that, as per the Obamacare ruling, the constitutionality of using federal funding to influence state law is not settled, which may open the door for a constitutional challenge to an essentially federal-mandated .08 BAC state legal limit.

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